Food Justice

World Food Day

How Family Farming Can Bring About Global Food Security

World Food Day
A Bangladeshi woman cuts up feed for her family's livestock. The family grows a variety of crops that meet their food and feed needs.

"When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, ‘Now is that political, or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread." – Desmond Tutu

Since 1981 World Food Day has been celebrated to commemorate the founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on October 16, 1945. Every year World Food Day has an annual theme that draws attention to critical global issues of food and hunger. The United Nations has declared 2014 to be the International Year of Family Farming. In tandem, the theme for this year’s World Food Day is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth.” This theme speaks to the role and contribution of family and smallholder farmers in tackling global hunger, poverty and climate disruption.

World Food Day is widely celebrated throughout the world because food is essential to life. It gives us daily energy, it gives us joy when we share it with family and friends, and it largely impacts all spheres of our life, including our health. However, lack of food or inadequate nutrition can lead to starvation and malnutrition and can mean death for millions of people. Despite some progress in reducing global hunger, nearly 842 million people in the world are hungry. The obesity epidemic of the last 30 years, which runs parallel to the rise of processed, less nutritious foods and to agricultural policies that support their production, has alarmingly been expanding to developing countries.

There are hundreds of stories behind the statistics of how hunger, malnutrition and obesity affect the lives of women and children around the world. Add to this the growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest caused by a drive for profits over people and nature, poverty deeply rooted in global structural inequalities and particularly affecting rural areas, and climate change disrupting lives and livelihoods as a result of unsustainable food production, overconsumption and waste.

Hunger and poverty are prevalent in rural areas. Our greatest opportunity to improve food security and nutrition and reduce vulnerability is by promoting smallholder agriculture. Yet food producers, mainly women, often cannot access the resources that are required: water, technology, investment and credit, among others.

Family Farming

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “Family farming is inextricably linked to national and global food security. Both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector. Family farming includes all family-based agricultural activities, and it is linked to several areas of rural development.”

One side of the ongoing global debate over who feeds the world typically favors large industrial agribusinesses over smallholder farmers. Yet there are 500 million family farmers who operate often less than two hectares and who, according to the Family Farming Campaign, provide “70 percent of the world's food production.” In contrast to multinational large agribusinesses, small family farmers use sustainable agricultural techniques that protect the environment, are not dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and produce a diversity of traditional and culturally appropriate crops. These farmers also take pride in their profession and the food they produce.

According to the Family Farming Campaign, family and small farmers are:

  • key to fighting hunger and malnutrition
  • often more productive and sustainable per unit of land and energy consumed
  • at least twice as effective as other production sectors in the prevention of poverty
In addition:
  • 40 percent of world households depend on family farming.
  • Out of the 3,000 million rural people in developing countries, 2,500 belong to families engaged in family farming.
  • Family farming also contributes to stabilizing the population in rural areas, to preserving historical and cultural values, and to generating income and consumption.
  • Women make up nearly half of agricultural labor in developing countries.

Over 70 percent of food insecure people are from small farms in rural areas in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, according to FAO. Rural poverty is paradoxical, since the same people who produce food go to bed hungry, and the majority of them are women. The International Day of Rural Women was established in 2008 to call attention to a key role that women play in rural development and agriculture. Supportive policies that ensure land rights, access to resources, adequate financing, and agricultural extension services are critical to enhance family and small farming.

Farmers must also have a right to decide what, where and how to produce. The International Peace and Development symposium organized by United Methodist Women and 17 partner organizations on September 19, 2014, discussed peace and sustainable development through basic human necessities such as food, water and health. The participants of the food workshop unanimously prioritized food sovereignty over all other critical issues related to food and hunger. “The right of peoples to define their own food systems” is the concept of food sovereignty, which is vital for achieving food security.

Food sovereignty emphasizes sustainable local production and consumption over the unsustainable production, overconsumption and waste by contemporary global food systems that destroy soil and biodiversity and are heavily dependent on petro-chemicals and fossil fuels. Every farmer and every consumer is entitled to make decisions and have a choice regarding what to produce and what to consume. Locally grown food by farmers who decide what to grow and who do not compromise food quality for profit, food that is healthy, fresh and tasty and reaches the consumers at a price they can afford, and a fair price to farmers for their hard labor are all at the center of food justice. When there is enough food produced in the world to feed all of humanity, but there is unequal distribution and lack of access to food for billions of the “least of our brothers and sisters,” food becomes a social justice issue.

United Methodist Women celebrates World Food Day because we believe that everyone has the right to healthy and affordable food. This is the day to heighten public awareness of the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the world and underscore the relationship of small-scale farming to poverty eradication and rural development. And this is the day to act for food justice by raising awareness about food sovereignty and sustainable food production.

How Your Mission Giving Helps

Internationally, with the support of members’ mission giving, United Methodist Women helps women farmers who grow organic food for their families and communities. United Methodist Women also helps facilitate agricultural coops and funds sustainable livelihoods and income generation projects. In the U.S.A, our members support community gardens, and promote healthy school lunches and domestically grown food. Globally, United Methodist Women promotes local solutions to food security and nutrition and advocates for policies that support equitable and sustainable food systems that protect the environment and produce nutritious and affordable food for all.

Posted or updated: 10/15/2014 11:00:00 PM




  • 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger.
  • 162 million children under the age of five are stunted.
  • 3.4 million people die each year due to being overweight and obesity.
  • The cost of malnutrition is about $3.5 trillion per year.
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