On 20 December 2017, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution which declared the years 2019-2028 to be the Decade of Family Farming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Decade of Family Farming will aim at focusing systematically on cross cutting and multi-dimensional issues which are of concern to family farmers.
Family farming is generally understood to be a type of farming whereby inherited land is owned and run by a family, especially in the African context. It is however unfortunate that similar to informal trading, the impact and contribution of family farmers to food security has been under-valued in preference of the more commercially viable type of farming. At a time that the UN is focused on the attainment of the targets set out in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is critical that UN Member States implement systems and policies to support family farming and its contribution towards the call to action to end poverty and hunger.
An assessment of the impact of family farming in the rural areas indicates that family farmers have come to be recognized as not only contributing towards food security but also ensuring youth employment creation. In Zimbabwe, one such family farmer who is contributing towards food security and changing lives in his community is James Kurauone Mutasa of Ndorikanda Village in Mutasa District, in the city of Mutare.
At the time that he inherited his farm from his parents and started family farming in 2013, Mutasa’s main objective had been to plough the land so as to provide a nutritious and balanced diet for his family. ”At the time that I started family farming, my priority was to provide a balanced diet for my family. This saw me planting various crops such as green vegetables, beens, green mealies, onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, including beetroot and lettuce which are not traditionally grown in the rural areas as I sought to target teachers in my area” said Mutasa.
Overtime, Mutasa started realizing surplus from the crops that he was producing and in turn started commercializing the family farm. As it stands, 90% of what Mutasa currently produces for commercial purposes is consumed by Ndorikanda Villagers with the remaining 10 % being bought by those wishing to resell namely individuals and big supermarkets such as Spar and Manica Produce both based in Mutare City. The family farm has enabled him to contribute towards youth employment creation, food provision for Ndorikanda villagers and ,at a personal level, his standard of living has improved.
Despite the above positive results that have been achieved through the family farm, there are a number of challenges that Mutasa is encountering. ’In as much as the family farm is operating well there are a number of challenges that I face. For example we have water challenges ,inputs are expensive and there is the absence of loan facilities from banks targeting family farmers and no linkages to export markets’ said Mutasa. He went on to add that “Because the inputs are expensive I end up not purchasing some chemicals needed for weed and pest control. Ultimately, this compromises the quality of the output of my yield”.
According to Mutasa, Ndorikanda Village does not have any commercial farmers hence the burden rests on family farmers to not only feed the community but also sustain it. However, despite all that family farmers do, Mutasa feels that the Government of Zimbabwe has not done much to support and empower family farmers.
“We have managed to link up with Government departments such as Agritex and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) on issues to do with getting the know-how on environmental protection and sustainable agricultural practices. There is also a long term project that has been instituted by Government to address water challenges, however the manner and pace of implementation is slow’ said Mutasa.
The project referred by Mutasa has seen Government installing 500 000litre water tanks in Ward 11 and 17 of Ndorikanda Village through harnessing water from Pungwe River which supplies water to Mutare.
“Despite the Government water project, in ward 24 where I stay, we currently do not have water tanks because the project is being implemented in phases. I feel a number of interventions need to be effected by Government so as to support and nurture family farmers in addressing the myriad of challenges that they are facing. For example Government should capacitate us with skills needed for water harnessing including installing harvesting weirs and tanks for us to store water for irrigation’ ’ said Mutasa.
Mutasa also called upon the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises to facilitate creation of export markets for family farmers because they are better paying and an alternative during those times when markets are flooded with produce and producer prices are at their lowest. “At times local markets are flooded and one then has nowhere to sell their produce. During the peak period one can sell a crate of tomatoes for $60 and when the market is flooded you sell the same crate for as low as $ resulting in losses. So if Government links us with export markets we might identify alternative markets for selling our produce” said Mutasa.
Mutasa however expressed appreciation to international organisations such as Plan International who have fenced cooperative gardens, fixed drainage systems and installed weirs in the rivers to assist in water supply. Another organisation which is in the form of a community development donor program, Nhaka African Worldview Trust, installed a poly-pipe water line from Marira River found in Mutasa district to the Nhaka Resource Centre. “The poly pipe which was installed by Nhaka African Worldview Trust has greatly assisted us by enabling us to harness water for use in our family farm” said Mutasa.
As the UN launches the beginning of the Decade of Family Farming, there is need for Member States to reflect and come up with mechanisms and tools for supporting the development of family farming. In seeking to promote the development of family farming, it is also important to utilize communication tools such as community radio and social media in the dissemination of best farming practices and accentuating the voice of the family farmer so that they are able to discuss issues pertaining to their lived experiences.
The UN Decade of Family Farming will be officially launched on Wednesday 29 May 2019 at the FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy.