THE ECONOMIC PAMPHLETEER: Multifunctionality: A New Future for Family Farms
I was surprised to have been asked recently by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to write a policy paper on family farming in North America in recognition of the International Year of the Family Farm (Ikerd, 2014). I questioned whether the FAO actually wanted me to write the paper, because of my nonconventional views of American agriculture. In the process, however, I discovered that much of the rest of the world is awakening to the realization that the values of traditional family farming are essential to ensure global food security. The U.S., Canada, and Australia have found few allies in their championing of industrial agriculture as being necessary to avoid massive hunger in the future.
The concept of multifunctional agriculture, as commonly used in international trade and policy discussions, refers to the multiple potential benefits of agriculture, emphasizing the importance of non-economic benefits of agriculture. Farms in this context are inherently multifunctional in that they have multiple ecological, social, and economic impacts on nature and society. A global report, Agriculture at a Crossroads, points out that multifunctional agriculture "provides food, feed, fiber, fuel and other goods...has a major influence on other essential ecosystem services such as water supply and carbon sequestration or release...plays an important social role, providing employment and a way of life...is a medium of cultural transmission and cultural practices worldwide...[and] provide[s] a foundation for local economies" (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development [IAASTD], p. 6)....
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