Family farming can be the way to reduce hunger in Brazil

Family farming

Support for local producers is essential in overcoming the food and environmental crisis facing the country

Every day, millions of workers in Brazil get up at sunrise to work on family farms. They are farmers, riverine people, quilombolas, indigenous peoples, caiçaras and other farmers who, through their knowledge and work, produce food for the market and for their own consumption. And it is precisely in the hands of these people that the solution to some of the most pressing problems we face can be found.

Climate change, deforestation, desertification and the loss of biodiversity compromise our existence, and the food insecurity situation faced by millions of families around the world requires urgent action. 

Meanwhile, industrial agriculture based on the production of agricultural commodities for export occupies most of the agricultural land. This model cultivates monocultures that reduce biodiversity by reducing the number of plant species present and damage the soil by removing the vegetation cover and leaving it exposed, in addition to high water and inputs such as pesticides and artificial fertilizers. In addition to bringing fewer jobs and food into the hands of Brazilians, it generates a very high environmental impact.

O latest MapBiomas survey on deforestation in Brazil points out that agriculture was responsible for 97% of deforestation in 2021, which in turn increased in 20% compared to 2020. The most affected biomes were the Amazon, Cerrado and Caatinga, where 96% of deforestation occurred year. The Amazon biome was the most affected, having lost almost 980 million hectares of forest (59% of the country's total), an area more than six times larger than the city of São Paulo. In addition, more than 40% of indigenous lands have suffered deforestation, including several territories that have already been demarcated.

Hunger and food insecurity

When this data is thought together with information related to hunger, the connection between these problems starts to become clearer. The Brazilian Research Network on Food Sovereignty and Security (PENSSAN) presented this year the National Survey on Food Insecurity, in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Brazil.

According to the study, 28% of households are in a situation of mild food insecurity and 30% with quantitative food restriction at the time it was launched, Among the households facing quantitative restriction, 15% were living with severe food insecurity, which is when the situation gets to the point where there is no food on the table. This is a famine situation. What also draws attention in these data is that hunger is more present in rural areas, reaching 18.6% of households. Furthermore, the region most affected is the North region, which concentrates 25.7% of families in a situation of severe food insecurity. 

It is remarkable that the areas where the most food is produced are also the most affected by hunger, and the region of the country most affected is where the most deforested biome is currently located. The survey also shows the dismantling of public policies as one of the causes of hunger, which includes policies related to encouraging family farming, such as the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), which ended in 2021. its solutions, and family farming is part of the answer. 

cultivating the solution

To overcome this crisis, we need to reformulate our food systems and encourage sustainable agricultural production aimed at ensuring food security. And this change requires the promotion of family farming, prioritizing production and enterprise models capable of meeting market demands without cutting down forests. 

According to 2022 Family Farming Statistical Yearbook produced by the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (Contag), most of the healthy and sustainable food consumed by Brazilians comes from this form of agriculture, despite the fact that it occupies only 23% of agricultural land. Family farming is also responsible for more than 10 million occupations in the countryside (67% of the total), in addition to playing an essential role in the preservation of food crops.

In the world, it is from this model that 80% of the food consumed comes from, according to the United Nations (UN), which recently declared the years 2019-2028 as the decade of family farming.

THE agroecology and permaculture, among other modes of production, have shown great potential in this regard, developing methods that combine scientific knowledge with traditional knowledge in the production of sustainable polycultures . The best practices currently are capable not only of preserving but also of regenerating the land, recovering degraded areas, bringing biodiversity and producing healthy and quality food.

Thus, it is possible not only to stop deforestation, but to reverse deforestation and soil degradation through regenerative agriculture. These forms of production also have great potential to combat climate change by mitigating the release of greenhouse gases while capturing carbon from the atmosphere. 

It is also important that this process brings income and food to the various producers and respects and promotes the food cultures of these populations, whether they are indigenous peoples, riverine people, quilombolas, foresters, family farmers and other people who bring food to Brazilian tables.

Family farming in the big city

Although the city of São Paulo is configured as the maximum expression of the urban, about a third of its territory has rural characteristics. It is obvious, however, that rural São Paulo does not fit into the more traditional definitions proposed for rural in Brazil.

With this in mind, the City of São Paulo launched, in 2014, the project Connect the dots, aiming to strengthen the value chain of local agriculture with the use of technology as a tool for integration and coordination between initiatives and stakeholders associated with the chain – from the public sector and civil society, and the Interelos Institute participated in the project by structuring the process attracting new partners and investors.

With the proposal, the city of São Paulo won the Mayors Challenge 2016 award, promoted by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The organization awarded innovative public policy initiatives in Latin American and Caribbean cities. São Paulo received the main award, with the premise that one of the great challenges to be faced by Latin American cities is to establish a sustainable relationship between urban and rural areas.

Economics of sociobiodiversity

In the Amazon, for example, this involves stimulating the socio-biodiversity economy, which values the production of local populations and their knowledge using agricultural techniques adapted to the biome. An example is the use of agroforestry, which are planting systems that mimic the natural conditions of the forest using plant species with commercial and/or use value.

For this to be done, it is necessary to foster an environment that encourages family farming and business models that are more capable of meeting market demands and generating income in a sustainable manner. This involves a series of approaches such as the development of public policies aimed at combating hunger and encouraging these models, favoring rural populations, indigenous peoples, quilombolas and other producers, providing access to credit and technical assistance, investment in research and promotion of cooperativism and the solidarity economy.

Thus, these initiatives can grow in scale and replace outdated agricultural models with a high environmental impact, developing an agriculture that prioritizes people and the environment over profit and that can feed the planet and eradicate hunger while preserving biodiversity. The necessary tools we already have, we just need to start using them.

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