Editorial – Women and ecology matter

19 December 2013

The year 2014 has been proclaimed by the UN as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF). As several articles in this issue of Farming Matters point out, it makes a great deal of sense to strengthen family farming. Yet there are powerful forces pulling agriculture into a very different direction, as can be seen in the focus on agribusiness in rural policy and practice.

Speaking at a recent conference in Dakar, our colleague Paulo Petersen from Brazil noted that the key to sustainable agriculture is farmer autonomy. To achieve this, he added, “we need to create political space for multifunctional peasant farming and build social and ecological resilience.” We hope that this issue will help our readers to appreciate the strong link between family farming and resilience, and between the family and their farm.

In contrast to what many believe, family farming is not outside, but part of the global economy. However, it relates to it in a different man- ner than other types of agriculture. In more and more places, young family farmers are discovering a future in agriculture by working with, rather than against, nature. Family farmers also connect with urban consumers, building new local and regional food systems that are transparent, healthy, fair, efficient and sustainable.

Throughout 2014, Farming Matters will highlight different aspects of family farming: agrobiodiversity, resilience, landscapes and nutrition. A common thread running through all these themes is gender. Men and women play different, but complementary, roles and strengthen the farm as a multifunctional system. But sometimes their roles can clash. This can happen when farmers move to more entrepreneurial modes of farming with a focus on specific cash crops and value chains. This may have negative implications for women’s autonomy with respect to food production, and for food security at the household level.

Many studies have shown that more income for the head of the family does not automatically turn into more nutritious food for the family. It may even lead to the reverse. Therefore, women need to be centre stage in the IYFF, and in decision-making on the future of our global food system.

Edith van Walsum
director ILEIA