Asia-Pacific's smallholder family farmers produce the bulk of the world's food, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their livelihoods and food security has been disproportionately large, a collaboration of FAO and advocacy groups has warned.
The impact of COVID-19 on the region’s rural communities, and particularly those in developing countries, has led to an economic slump and stagnation.
The pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities and inequalities within and among countries, and the fragility of the food, trade, health, and climate linkages in the context of food security.
Family farmers in the Asia-Pacific region are experiencing a weakening in their purchasing power, an increase in food losses, fall in prices, and other disturbances caused mainly by the disruption of food chains, the FAO pointed out.
"With low average incomes, even before the pandemic, smallholder family farmers are now enduring worsening conditions. Nevertheless, they continue risking their own health, while playing their fundamental role in feeding us all," it noted.
Moreover, the pandemic has threatened worsening poverty, food insecurity, gender inequality, and progress toward other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In Asia, which is home to 350 million undernourished people, higher than any other region, the pandemic is threatening to undo decades of progress made in reducing poverty and ending hunger.
Call to action
The efforts made by the FAO and other agencies to raise awareness about the importance of family farms to global food security precede the pandemic.
In fact, 2019-2028 has been proclaimed as the UN Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF), with the launch of a Global Action Plan to highlight the role of family farms.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the FAO has joined forces with ComDev Asia, a communication for development initiative supported by FAO, including the Asian Farmers' Association (AFA), the UPLB College of Development Communication (CDC), the Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Digital Green, and the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), to launch a regional awareness campaign.
Its main aim is to create a better understanding of the important role family farmers play in building a resilient food secure region — one that can provide nutritious food for its people.
By extension, the term ‘family farming’ also includes fisher folks, herders, and people relying on forests for their food and livelihoods. The campaign plans to give voice to family farmers' organizations and reach out to rural communities through the use of community radio in 15 countries in the region.
"The campaign is calling on all people to value the role of family farmers to achieve food security in this region, especially during the pandemic. Family farmers are the frontline to provide nutritious food for us all. We believe a more resilient family farmer is representing a more resilient world," said Maria Stella Tirol, ComDev Asia facilitator during the campaign launch.
"Family farmers are food heroes, and are front-liners to the work of providing healthy and nutritious food to strengthen our immunity and resistance to disease and sickness," stated Esther Penunia, Secretary General of the Asian Farmers' Association (AFA), an alliance of national farmers organizations in 16 countries, with 13 million small-scale family farmers as its members.
Penunia added that all over the Asia-Pacific region, family farmers, through their organizations, have conducted awareness campaigns on COVID-19, distributed food packets to more vulnerable members, established farmers' markets, and online shops to bring fresh and healthy produce to urban poor consumers, and partnered with government agencies in massive food production campaigns.
Globally, there are around 500 million family farmers. In the Asia-Pacific region, smallholder farmers own and operate the vast majority of farmland, but representing less than five hectares per farm.
Less than 25 percent of what they produce is consumed by their own families, and the remaining 75 percent is sold in the markets. This means a large number of farmers produce a surplus for sale, contributing to national and even, global food security. In fact, family farmers produce more than 80 percent of the world's food.
"This campaign to advocate for Asia-Pacific's family farmers, fishers, herders and others is needed now more than ever," said Allan Dow, FAO's Asia-Pacific communication officer.
"Safeguarding the food security and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people in our vast region is an absolute priority — and with the added impact of this global pandemic a call to action must be loud and clear," Dow added.
The FAO said it has created a family farming knowledge platform through which its partners in the campaign will reach out to various stakeholders, including members and development partners.