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India conference raises profile of small family farming

Keynote speaker warns of threats from big business

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Updated: March 25, 2014 05:45 PM GMT
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India conference raises profile of small family farming

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More than 400 small farmers from across Asia converged in New Delhi today to strengthen the concept of family farming and share their experiences about adaptive, innovative and sustainable farming methods.

The Pan Asia Farm Fest 2014, organized by Caritas India, marks the UN-declared International Year of Family Farming, which aims to raise the profile of family run farms and small farming operations.

Farmers from India, Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand are taking part in the two-day conference which opened yesterday.

“Smallhold farmers in Asia are threatened by land grab, seed grab (introduction of hybrid seeds) and water grab by companies at a time when 75 percent of the food that is eaten by the world comes from Asia,” Vandana Shiva, an Indian author and environmental and anti-globalization activist, told

Shiva, the program’s keynote speaker, was sharply critical of the use of pesticides and other chemical fertilizers which she said destroyed soil, polluted water and killed off insects such as bees, which are essential to a healthy ecosystem.

“The chemical push has changed the paradigm of agriculture. Instead of working with ecological processes, agriculture has been reduced to an external input system adapted to chemicals,” she said.

She also expressed concern over agriculture being focused on large single-crop, or monoculture, farms instead of small farms producing diverse crops.

“Big companies do not want the farmers to create their own seeds. They want them to use the hybrid seeds, which can not be used for breeding more seeds,” she said, adding that a farmer has to purchase seeds each time he or she has to cultivate a crop.

This spiraling trend plunges small farmers into intractable debts that can even lead to suicides, as evidenced recently in India.

The event stressed that family farming produces food not only as a commodity but to sustain families.

“If we can feed our own families by cultivating vegetables, rice and pulses organically then no one will go to bed hungry,” said Neelani Tissera, a smallhold farmer from Sri Lanka.

Tissera said that one issue of concern in her country is that the young generation does not want to use their education for innovative and sustainable techniques for agriculture.

“They just want to study and move out to cities,” she said.

Arif Soegigo, a farmer from Indonesia, told that he has been able to increase his income by breeding fish and cultivating small plants at the same time. He uses a portion of what he produces to feed his family and sells the rest at a local market to boost his income.

Father Frederick D’Souza, director of Caritas India, said the conference was set up to encourage “smallhold farmers to produce organic food, home made manure and fertilizers. These farmers do not have that much money to buy expensive chemicals and fertilizers. So even if they produce small, they will be producing organic and healthy food,” he said.

“Family farming has great potential for securing the food and nutrition security of millions of households that are grappling with manifold challenges to their subsistence and survival.” 

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