A few years ago I had a series of interesting discussions with small-scale farm families in South India who had shifted from conventional to organic cotton production. I asked them what the most significant changes were which they had experienced. There were some remarkable answers. One woman farmer said: “Since the pesticides have left our house we can sleep peacefully. There is no more harassment from the pesticides dealer who comes in the night to collect his money”. Another woman explained: “Now that the cotton is grown organically, we can intercrop it with sorghum and vegetables for home consumption. Finally we can eat our own vegetables”. A farm labourer calculated that by working on an organic cotton farm she would spend Rs 3,000 less per year on hospital bills, and would earn 10 “extra” days of income because she did not fall sick any more due to over-exposure to pesticides. These women told in very concrete terms what sustainable farming means to them: it is about human dignity and peace of mind, about growing and eating your own food, and about healthy working conditions. And of course it is about earning a reasonable income, as the male farmers emphasised. The shift from non-sustainable to sustainable farming can literally mean the difference between misery and a decent life.
Sustainable family farming is not only the way forward to these Indian cotton farmers, it is a possible future for 400 million small-scale farmers – and it is essential for the future of our planet. By facilitating the exchange of concrete experiences world wide, ILEIA and its AgriCultures Network partners in Latin America, Africa and Asia have contributed to an increased awareness and conviction, at local and global levels, that sustainable family farming is part of the solution (we use the word “sustainable” as we want to include all forms of agriculture that respect people and nature, even though they may not be strictly organic). Over the past decades we have collected, published and shared several thousands of experiences, and the body of knowledge on sustainable farming continues to grow every day. It forms a living testimony of the wisdom and resilience of family farmers around the world. Our key message to Rio therefore is: Sustainable family farming deserves recognition.
While many policymakers still believe that family farming is inefficient and something of the past, things are beginning to change. There is a growing consensus among farmers’ and civil society organizations and among scientists and influential actors within the UN institutions that sustainable family farming means better livelihoods for millions of people in the rural areas, and is also key to the future of the planet. The paradigm shift that has been called for is on its way as many millions of farmers are already practicing and developing sustainable methods every day. But it needs to be completed and there are major obstacles to be removed. IFOAM plays a very important role in this process of building a growing and inclusive organic+ movement. Let’s join forces on the way to Rio, and beyond.