Small scale farmers feed the world

Small scale farmers feed the world

January 15, 2021

Small scale farmers feed the world

A rundown of the problems, challenges and achievements of farmers, the people who work at the beginning of the food supply chain, in whom we need to invest in order to guarantee truly sustainable food.



From land grabbing to workers' rights and the role of farmers in the crisis generated by the pandemic. This and much more was discussed during the agriculture session of the “Resetting the Food System from Farm to Fork - Setting the Stage for UN 2021 FOOD Systems Summit” International Forum, promoted by the Barilla Foundation and Food Tank. Moderated by Washington Post reporter Laura Reiley, the session was attended by leading figures from the industry: Leah Penniman, co-founder of the Soul Fire Farm; Edie Mukiibi, Vice President of Slow Food International; and Jannes Maes, President of the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA).


In Africa as in Europe

Land is central to the life and concerns of farmers all over the world: from small scale agricultural producers on the African continent to farmers in Western Europe. Edie Mukiibi and Jannes Maes explained this in detail, describing two worlds and two ways of doing agriculture that are only apparently different. 

Small scale farmers in Africa are the biggest stakeholders in the food and agricultural sector, they produce the food that sustains communities and have played a leading role even during the pandemic, managing to supply urban areas with their products,” explained Mukiibi, pointing out that land grabbing Africa comes in the form of national laws that steal land from small local farmers to support the vested interests of large companies. Specifically in order to effectively oppose these injustices, movements of young farmers and indigenous peoples are emerging. Movements that are needed to safeguard not only the land but also the knowledge gained by these “small but numerous” farmers, as Mukiibi defines them. 


There is no sustainability without respect for rights

For our young farmers in Western Europe, access to land is the main challenge: in our case this isn’t about land ownership but about the right to use it for production,” said Jannes Maes. The involvement of young people in agriculture, loss of biodiversity and climate change are among the main problems faced in Europe. “We cannot think of solving the climate crisis without investing in agriculture and we cannot invest in agriculture without taking the climate crisis into account,” concluded Maes. 

Leah Penniman began by quoting Malcolm X, who said that “land is the basis of all revolution, freedom, justice and equality”, introducing the subject of reparations for black farmers and indigenous people. “When we talk about reparations we have to talk about land,” she added, describing the current situation in the US and around the globe. Around 1.5 billion acres of land have been stolen from indigenous people, over 16 million from the Black community, often by violent and questionable means. “This land needs to be redistributed and there are models and approaches in place to do this successfully,” she explained. 

Continuing her analysis of the inequality and exploitation of certain categories of agricultural workers, Penniman also referred to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the challenges and injustices present for decades also in the United States and made them more evident. “One positive aspect is that perhaps for the first time, thanks to the pandemic, we are realizing how we treat these workers, who are so essential to our production system. My prayer is that this awakening is not a temporary fad but will last over time and bring real changes,” she concluded. 


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