Montpellier – 1 June 2014 – Professor Sir Gordon Conway highlights the need for sustainable intensification to ensure family farms are viable and resilient at the “International Encounters: Family Farming and Research,” held in Montpellier, France from June 1-3.

Today, family farming – crop, livestock, forestry and fishery production that is managed, operated and laboured by both men and women’s families – still predominates in both developing and developed countries. Globally, about 1.5 million people are part of family farms and of the 525 million farms worldwide, 85% are considered small or no larger than 2 hectares.

He states: “Many family farms today remain insecure – to feed themselves and to feed their families – and their ability to do so, will only get harder with climate change.”

Building resilience to shocks and stresses caused by higher temperatures or erratic rainfall patterns for crops, livestock and people are today’s most pressing global challenges. Sustainable Intensification urges the preservation and enhancement of natural capital alongside a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions originating from agriculture.

Stressing practical solutions to make family farms viable and more resilient, Conway underscores “The reality is that we are running out of good-quality land and water while populations are increasing and our demands on agriculture are growing. For family farms to be viable in the face of climate change, they must be supported to intensify their production on the same amount of land or less; with the same amount of water or less; and with more prudent use of fertilizer.”

Sustainable Intensification emphasizes multiple approaches through agro-ecology, genetics and socio-economics. Practices such as no-till farming can improve soils, reduce erosion and increase water retention. Genetic advances such as Improved seed varieties can increase farm yields or beta-carotene biofortified orange-fleshed sweet potatoes can reduce vitamin A deficiencies in children.

“Family farms are family businesses and must be supported to grow and flourish,” says Conway.  Organizing family farms into farmer associations or cooperatives and even creating out-grower models with contract farms when done sustainably can reduce costs and raise incomes through collective purchasing and bargaining.

“Family farms can be viable and resilient when there is food and nutrition security for all members, available credit for inputs and training for maximizing yields, cash income for schooling and medical expenses, insurance for minimizing risks and strong linkages to markets.”

Donors, farmers and governments globally must invest in climate-smart agriculture, food security and nutrition. The growing volatility of weather patterns and the growing scarcity of natural resources mean that sustainable intensification is not only a necessary pathway for family farming, but an urgent one.