How family farmers feed the world

Family farms are integral to global food security – they account for 90% of the 570 million farms worldwide and produce 80% of our food in value terms, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

However, such farms rely on family labor, and with younger generations preferring to make their lives in cities, the average age of farmers around the globe is rising.

In the US and other developed countries, the average age of a farmer is about 60 years old, according to FAO. This is the same in Africa, despite 60% of the continent’s population being under 24 years old.

This has raised an important question – who will produce the world’s food in years to come?

Family farms in Colombia and Ecuador

South American farmers produce 16% of total global food and agricultural exports, according Rabobank.  
Here we look at family farmers in Colombia and Ecuador, where small- and medium-sized family farms produce most of the countries’ important exports.

Bernardo Peña M, quinoa grower and processor, Ecuador

Bernardo’s business is a real family affair. He manages the company, Porges, with his brother and they buy and process quinoa from about 50 family farmers high in the Andes, near Pujili, covering around 70ha.

They also grow about 8ha of quinoa and have developed a range of products, including cereals and a shake, which are tried and tested by the family.

Porges has two domestic customers and exports to the US and Spain.

Main challenges:

Ecuador cannot compete on price and volume with big producers, such as Bolivia and Peru, says Bernardo, so he is developing added-value products to stay ahead of the game.

Juan Pablo Villota, coffee grower and processor, Colombia

As the third generation at San Alberto, in Buenavista, Quindio province, Juan and his brother, Gustavo, have brought new skills and drive to the business and the coffee they produce is now the most award-winning in all of Colombia.

Central to this was Juan’s time in France working for a wine company. He came back to the family business with the aim of approaching coffee production like that of a fine wine.

Main challenges:
San Alberto was one of the first coffee farms in the area to open to tourists and develop its own artisanal coffee brand. However, he worries that many local farmers lack the necessary skills and entrepreneurialism to make the most of coffee tourism. To continue building the business, he is considering opening a coffee shop in Europe.

Marcel J Laniado, banana grower, Ecuador

Marcel and his family still use the same banana trees his grandfather planted, although the business has grown since then and they now employ up to 95 people.

His farm, Hacienda La Nueva Pubenza, in Machala, produces 320,000 boxes of bananas a year across about 100ha and sells to three main customers in Europe.

Main challenges:
Marcel’s family would like to expand, but they are restricted by expansion laws in Ecuador. He is working with other growers to try to change this.

What next for family farming?

For many countries the key challenge is how to promote agriculture as an exciting career opportunity, while developing policies that make land and capital more available. Key is also to encourage older farmers to hand over the reins sooner and/or embrace the skills of younger generations.

However, the FAO cautions that not all rural people should stay in agriculture. In fact, it is positive that younger people diversify along the food chain or into other sectors. Instead, countries should develop broader rural and urban policies to ensure the future of sustainable farming.

 

Bernardo Pena M, quinoa grower and processor, Ecuador
Bernardo Pena M, quinoa grower and processor, Ecuador
The cafe at San Alberto coffee farm, Buenavista, Quindio, Colombia
The cafe at San Alberto coffee farm, Buenavista, Quindio, Colombia
Marcel J Laniado, banana grower, Ecuador
Marcel J Laniado, banana grower, Ecuador