Celebrating family farmers every day

It’s time to give more attention to the crucial role that small-scale family farmers play in creating a more sustainable global food system, argues Danielle Nierenberg

It couldn’t come at a more opportune time. As the global population approaches nine billion by the year 2050, nourishing the world and preserving diminishing environmental resources presents a daunting challenge. Food Tank: The Food Think Tank highlights the many ways in which small-scale farmers – both urban and rural – are growing healthy, nutritious food for their communities while protecting the planet.

This year the 2013 Food Sovereignty Prize is being awarded to the Group of 4 and the Dessalines Brigade/La Via Campesina. Their work exemplifies the power of family farmers who are ensuring food and nutrition security, protecting the environment, and improving livelihoods. We applaud their efforts and hope they inspire other farmers, eaters, businesses, and governments to make the food system more environmentally, economically, and socially just. And we urge the funding and donor communities to give them more attention, more research, and ultimately more investment to be replicated and scaled-up in developing and industrialized countries alike.

Every day we have an opportunity to celebrate the thousands of other farmers and groups working in fields, kitchens, schools, and laboratories around the world to improve food and nutrition security, increase incomes, raise yields, and protect biodiversity.

Food Tank has chosen to recognize initiatives giving family farmers the support that they need to produce healthy crops that feed their communities.

These five initiatives are working to support farmers growing indigenous, nutrient-rich crops all over the world. It’s important that these efforts be scaled up on a global level to expand access to healthy produce, promote enviromentally sustainable farming practices, and preserve traditional diets.


1. The Indigenous Plants for Health and Wellness Program (IPHWP) was created by theRepublic of the Philippines’ Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) . The program studies Philippine environmental biodiversity, focusing on indigenous food crops  to combat malnutrition. Throughout the research process, BAR collect species varieties in an effort to conserve the country’s rich plant varieties. With data, preservation, and research, BAR works toward building awareness of the importance of nutrient-rich indigenous plants, while creating new markets for local production.

2. In Kenya, Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, professor of horticulture at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), has helped farmers cultivate indigenous crops including amaranth, black nightshade, and Bambara nuts for consumption. Abukutsa-Onyango’s project also helps instruct farmers how to preserve these crops, once harvested, to help maintain maximum nutritional value.

3. Fundatia ADEPT  is a biodiversity conservation organization in Romania helping local farmers use agroecological management practices to take care of their land, including cultivating indigenous species of plants and animals. Fundatia ADEPT works with individuals, communities, universities, and other governments to conserve agricultural ecosystems in the Transylvania region, and cultivate and protect more than 50 native species of edible plants.

4. As an original founding farm of the Navajo Family Farms (NFF) project, the North Leupp Family Farm (NLFF) works to improve the health and well-being of native North American peoples through sustainable agriculture and indigenous foods. NLFF advocates for the cultural revitalization of the Diné community, focusing primarily on farming techniques and crop varieties native to central Arizona. NLFF also teaches community members, particularly youth, about the significance of native plants and crops in traditional culinary arts through educational programs.

5. The University of Canberra received a grant for nearly AU$800,000 (approximately US$780,000) from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research to study the practices of women smallholder vegetable farmers in Papua New Guinea. The purpose of the project is to provide education and resources to enable these farmers, whose vegetable cultivation is usually restricted to household use, to sell their crops commercially.

Danielle Nierenberg is co-founder and president of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank


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