In June 2015, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched the Family Farming Knowledge Platform (FFKP), an online database of policies, laws, and regulations related to family farming around the world. By focusing on the family farming context at the international, regional, and national level, the FAO hopes to create a space for those involved in family farming to share information and put together action-based initiatives.
Since its launch, roughly 150,000 users have visited the site. The platform currently consists of more than 100 government-appointed focal points and 90 contributors worldwide. Contributors and focal points are a crucial component of keeping the FFKP up-to-date and have aided in compiling the more than 15,000 documents that now constitute the platform.
Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Francesco Pierri, the Chief of the Advocacy Unit – Partnerships, Advocacy, and Capacity Development Division, to discuss the need for such a database, how it is being used today, and plans for the future.
Food Tank (FT): Why did FAO choose to develop an online platform to deliver information about family farming?
Francesco Maria Pierri (FMP): During the 2014 International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), FAO and various partners and stakeholders expressed the need to go beyond the celebrations and to put in place a set of concrete actions aimed at addressing the issues and challenges raised throughout the year. One key demand was to share information and knowledge on key topics and the state of policymaking related to family farming across the world. Despite the prominence they had acquired within the food and development debate, information on the realities and policy context around family farms was scarce and scattered.
In response to this, the decision was made to implement a web-based knowledge platform that could help capture these dimensions and systematize them in a user-friendly facility on the web.
Thus, after a six-month preparation, involving many FAO staff, the Family Farming Knowledge Platform was launched in June 2015. It has been providing a single access point for international, regional and national information—including national laws and regulations, public policies, best practices, relevant data and statistics, researches, articles, and publications.
FT: How is this Platform addressing the challenges that family farmers face in today’s food system?
FMP: The FFKP has the specific yet ambitious role of being a repository of a huge amount of information on various realities that characterize family farmers around the globe. This information is provided by different entities, such as research organizations, universities, non-governmental organizations, development agencies, farmers’ organizations, etc., with the aim of sharing knowledge, solutions, and action-oriented initiatives.
By spotting a huge amount of diverse information and knowledge, the platform helps give a sense of the enormous contribution that family farms make in dealing with some of the most pressing challenges we face today, such as food security and the needs for sustainable food systems in times of climate change, as well as of the challenges they face themselves.
In addition, the users can find all kinds of information on the work of FAO in HQ and at the decentralized levels with governments and family farmer organizations.
FT: Who are the intended users of the Platform? How are they currently using it?
FMP: The audience is quite broad, since the FFKP is directed to all those involved in family farming and rural development-related issues: from farmers’ organizations to governments, development practitioners, scholars, researchers, etc.
We have not yet conducted a research on the use that is being made of the platform, as we wanted it running at least two years before making this assessment. So now, we are considering how to do it. We will ask feedback from the users on why and how they are using the platform and we will also ask them concrete suggestions to improve it.
FT: What are the direct outcomes that you expect users to gain through this Platform?
FMP: The FFKP aims at being a reference tool that can facilitate informed debate and decisionmaking on family farming policy processes. It is also a repository for social activists and rural development advocates to gather together news and knowledge to be used for setting up a campaign, for instance.
Civil society dynamism at the global and local levels is essential for creating enabling policy environments. Currently, we are also examining the possibility of including a space within the FFKP that would allow stakeholders to interact, discuss, and exchange experiences in order to foster a more effective participatory dialogue for effective policies in support of small family farmers.
FT: How does a better understanding of national laws and regulations improve the livelihoods of family farmers?
FMP: FAO assumes that family farming sustainability and inclusive rural development that defeats rural poverty are key challenges, which should drive the action of governments and legislators in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Then understanding how laws and regulations have been formulated, which needs they want to meet, which effects they have produced and which mistakes have been made, is essential for the quality and the effectiveness of policymaking.
Currently, there is evidence, for instance, of the risk of making national laws, public policies, and programs without a clear understanding of the real situation and challenges that local family farmers’ face in accessing natural and productive resources and services, or about the different strategies rural households put in place to make a living.
Governments, their partners in civil society, and the private sector need to engage in assessment and analysis of the conditions of family farmers. These assessments should not only focus on the conditions of family farmers, they also need to identify the effects of existing laws and public policies, and whether they are addressing their needs and constraints. This exercise allows governments to improve their policies and improve the distribution of and access to goods, services, and resources.
In addition, a better understanding of laws and public policies related to family farming allows the extraction of successful and replicable ones to be applied in other countries. It is vital to learn from others’ knowledge and experience. FAO has increased its work in collaboration with parliamentarians over the last three years in many regions, and is supporting any cooperation aimed at benchmarking and improving the policy and investment environment.
FT: What are some of the policy changes that make the biggest difference for family farmers?
FMP: I think there is consensus today that what makes the biggest difference is adopting a multi-sectoral approach. For a long time the mainstream discourse around policies, services, and investment focused on the need to improve productivity and strengthen access to market. These two issues remain priorities but they have increasingly been considered within a larger context of objectives spanning from preserving natural resources and resilience capacity or adaptation to climate change, to the need to consider policies at the local level, as part of an overall strategy of rural territorial development.
It is now evident that rural poverty reduction requires synergies between agricultural policies and other rural development policies for enhancing creation of off-farm employment opportunities and effective social protection policies. Also, there is full understanding of the strategic meaning of empowering rural women and promoting gender equality in access to productive resources and services, as well as paying attention to the conditions of farm succession for the youth.
The policy discourse is changing and encompassing also the dimension of participatory processes in policy making and implementation. The IYFF was instrumental in creating this new approach and FAO is following up on it in providing assistance to our members and collaborating with family farmer organizations.
FT: What are some FAO’s future goals for the Platform?
FMP: The FFKP has been renewed constantly since its launch to improve its information and communication capacities. It has been enriched with many new features, because we would like this initiative to keep adapting to its audience’s needs.
Last year, Regional pages as well as Thematic pages were introduced. This, not only to enrich the contents of the FFKP, by providing a deeper insight into some vital aspects of family farming, but also to facilitate the user’s search by guiding them thematically and geographically. Finally, these changes allow the FFKP to link users to the existing FAO projects, initiatives, and their websites and hubs (where present), strengthening its aptitude to support policy dialogue.
Soon, we will include a selection of videos and documentaries in the Home page, as video is a powerful medium to convey information and has the ability to address important issues to a general public.
Finally, we are currently working on the creation of a Forum to be included in the Platform to permit key family farming stakeholders to engage in policy dialogue and knowledge-sharing.
By offering facilitated online discussions and building communities of experts for thematic and regional consultation processes, the forum will play an important role in creating synergies, ensuring greater transparency of policy processes and encouraging multi-stakeholder dialogue on family farming related issues.