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Turning our Attention to Family Farmers at Last

January 09, 2014

In a new series for Impatient Optimist you’ll hear from partners and different voices at the foundation about various “sustainable” approaches to agriculture we believe can benefit farmers and the environment. Earlier this week, Josh Lozman explained what we mean by “sustainability” and why helping farmers to grow more food sustainably is so critical. Today, Pierre Ferrari, President and CEO of Heifer International, introduces us to 2014 as the "International Year of Family Farming" and his year-long blog series here on Impatient Optimists. 

2014: International Year of Family Farming. This is the year the rest of the world takes notice of the 600 million smallholder farmers and herders, and the timing couldn’t be more critical. In the next 30 years, the Earth is projected to be home to nine billion people. If the global food system doesn’t adapt, we can look forward to an increase in problems we already struggle to solve: extreme hunger, stunted children, riots, export bans, land grabs, water shortages and so on. Add climate change to the equation, and it’s a crisis beyond imagination.

To quote Jun Borras, academic and activist: “Today, many people ask, ‘How can large-scale agriculture and land investments solve the world’s food problems?’ The more appropriate (though more difficult) question is, ‘How can small farmers grow and distribute enough food to feed the world while cooling the planet?’”

 This is the year the rest of the world takes notice of the 600 million smallholder farmers and herders, and the timing couldn’t be more critical.

At Heifer International, we have worked with smallholder farmers for 70 years. From as far off as the Philippines, to as close as the Delta region in our backyard, we have served and learned from smallholder farmers as we have given the tools, training and animals they need to feed their families as well as their local communities. These are the individuals and families, growing crops and raising livestock on farms often smaller than five acres, who will help feed our growing population and save our planet from the devastating effects of climate change.

Take a quick look:


I’m thrilled smallholder farmers are finally getting the attention deserved, as they truly will play a critical role at sustainably ending hunger and poverty. I’m also excited to have the opportunity to do a yearlong blog series here on Impatient Optimists focusing on the various issues faced by the world’s small farmers and how we can support them in their great mission. Follow along in 2014 to examine how smallholder farmers can change the course of entire food industries, what needs to be done to strengthen women farmers, how smallholder farmers can repair damaged environments, and beyond.

Is there a question in particular you would like to see me cover this year? Tell me in the comments section below. 

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