Family, Women, Farmworkers & Peasant Farmers
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)
Agricultural production unfolds within a community, a network of social relations that often extends beyond the immediate horizon of one’s awareness. Agricultural leadership, then, must recognize the dignity and contributions of every member involved in food production and include the legitimate contributions of those who historically have been excluded. By viewing the practice of agriculture as a vocation with social and ethical dimensions, we know that the circle of concern ought to extend as broadly as possible. The agricultural leader is responsible for contributing to a vision of the food system in which the various participants are treated with dignity and justice.
In particular, the circumstances facing the family in farming are especially distressing. In many respects, we have sought an abundant harvest in exchange for a more diminished culture of life. For generations, the Church proposed the family farm as a model of agricultural stewardship and cooperation, a human community truly oriented toward the economic, social, and spiritual good of its members and those beyond it. Today’s economic realities make such a lifestyle virtually impossible for those seeking these celebrated models of family farming. It is especially difficult for current families who seek to continue that heritage. The promotion of sustainable family farms must be one of the essential benchmarks of human-centered agriculture leadership.
One-third of the world’s 7.3 billion people are smallholder farmers. They and their families produce nearly 70 percent of all food consumed worldwide on 60 percent of the planet’s arable land. However, with the expansion of industrial farming, support for smallholder, or peasant, farmers has been reduced and has pushed these more modest operations into a nearly invisible status. Even so, there are still hundreds of millions of working smallholder farms across the planet. There is little consideration, investment and research devoted to these incredible smallholder producers; agricultural leaders and policymakers need to put them at the heart of the world’s agricultural development strategy and the hope for overcoming hunger in our world.
Furthermore, it is too often overlooked in many places around the globe that women are the primary agricultural providers within their communities. They exercise an extraordinary leadership through their intensive efforts, giving witness to the integrity of honest labour in both the fields and the market places. Their authority is grounded in their steadfast care for their families, communities, and neighbors. They contribute in an essential way to the overall health and well being of a community, not merely in terms of providing nutrition, but by creating a context of well-being and development for all members of the locality and region. Indeed, women are at the heart of effective solutions: there can be no solutions without their involvement at all levels of food production and decision-making.
Peasant or family farmers—and here we can include farmworkers—often suffer from policies of agricultural development that favor large-scale production over and against smaller producers. The consequences of these policies often take decision-making away from local farmers and place control into the hands of banks, intermediaries and large corporations. Laudato Si warns about this as well: “Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their lands or to abandon their traditional crops. Attempts by the latter to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses.” (LS, 129) Agricultural leaders have a responsibility to ensure the conditions in which the family can remain a vibrant community amidst the production of foods and other agricultural products.
So we reflect: In what ways do I acknowledge that I am dependent upon the livelihoods of others, and thus my decision-making ought to include the perspectives of others, including the marginalized?
Continue to next section: SEEING the World of Agriculture