The United Nations has designated next year, 2014, the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), and preparations around the world are already beginning.

In the United States, less than one percent of Americans are farmers, and only about 0.003 percent of Americans claim farming as their “primary occupation.” Despite these low numbers, however, nearly 90 percent of all U.S. farms are owned and operated by individuals or families, and these farmers are more likely to be producing food than the large-scale corporate producers, 80 percent of which grow corn for animal feed or ethanol, not people.

In the U.S. and around the world, farming is changing, and with that change, the role of family farmers is more important than ever. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines family farmers as people in any area of agriculture who make most of their living by farming, have limited access to land and other resources, and who work with family members, where the head of the household is directly involved in production and not just management of the farm.

The fundamental goal of next year’s IYFF is to increase awareness and support at both local and international levels for small-holder and family farmers; recognizing that, while they are very diverse, family farmers face many of the same challenges around the world, and they also play critical roles in ensuring food security, alleviating poverty, and fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals.

Supporting global collaboration around farming practices that empower small-holder and family farmers will be a big part of IYFF, and Food Tank: The Food Think Tank is collaborating with FAO to highlight these successes. Over the next year, Food Tank’s website will regularly feature information about the innovations family farmers are using to alleviate hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation in all corners of the world, as well as the role that family farming plays in everything from youth engagement and gender equity to climate change adaptation.

The role of individuals in shaping more equitable, sustainable, and supportive global systems is highlighted by the fact that IYFF is also the first U.N. International Year to be successfully proposed by members of civil society. The international development organization World Rural Forum, who led the effort to establish IYFF, highlights how the solutions to food and agriculture issues go well beyond governments.

Family farmers have been and will always continue to be critical to national and global food security. Food Tank will be featuring posts focused on the issues and innovations critical to family farmers around the world, as well as actions everyone can take to support them.