Case Studies, Systems Thinking

AgriCultures Network (AN): Magazines and more for this global network of family farmers

From small-scale agriculturalists to fishers to pastoralists and beyond, family farmers are at the heart of our food system. In fact, an estimated 80% of food produced worldwide comes from a family farm. The AgriCultures Network is an international group of organizations that supports these farmers and promotes the exchange of agroecology knowledge and experiences.

“We see that family farming is increasingly under threat because there is a very widespread notion that [it] cannot feed the world,” said Edith van Walsum, now a Senior Policy Advisor with the AgriCultures Network. “We as a network would like to strengthen the argument that it can.”

Formerly overseen by the Centre for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture (ILEIA) in the Netherlands, the AgriCultures Network secretariat has been based in Senegal since 2017 and is hosted by IED Afrique, a network member. Its core members are in Brazil, China, India, Kenya,the Netherlands, Peru, and Senegal.

Farming Matters magazine

One of the AgriCultures Network’s primary activities is the publishing of a digital magazine called Farming Matters (formerly known as LEISA Magazine). The publication is an institution in the agroecology community, and has been produced for more than 20 years with a readership of half a million people globally.

By sharing the stories and practical experiences of farmers from across the AgriCultures network, the magazine offers a unique outlet for farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing and the co-creation of pieces by farmers and academics. Paired with human interest stories, the magazine also mainstreams scientific evidence that documents the triple-win benefits of agroecology for the environment, society, and health.

Because Farming Matters is also read by policymakers, researchers, extension officers, and entrepreneurs, the publication serves the dual purpose of being a source of advocacy and education.

A recent edition of Farming Matters published in September 2020 focused on the parallels between feminism and agroecology. Both movements question the current structure of the world, be it as it relates to power within the food system or power within social relations.

These are critical questions to raise among family farmers and those working alongside them.  After all, women hold only 15% of farmland but provide nearly half of farm labour. They also bear the brunt of the responsibility in food and farming adjacent work—cooking, fetching water, cleaning, and beyond.

The AgriCultures Network also publishes regional issues of the magazine with greater frequency. Editions come in Portuguese, Spanish, French, Mandarin, and seven local languages spoken in India. This regionalization lets network members to prioritize themes that are relevant to them and share context-specific teachings.

The magazines and, by extension the AgriCultures Network, have significant influence. Bara Gueye, Director of IED Afrique, remembers when the magazine published an article about a Senegalese researcher who was studying a joint farming experiment. Gueye says there were a significant number of people who reached out to the researcher based on that article—from Senegal but also other regions of the world. What started as a local innovation had found new roots abroad.

Mainstreaming family farming for the future

Family farming is slowly rising in prominence on the global policy agenda. In 2019, the United Nations Farm and Agriculture Organization declared the next 10 years the Decade of Family Farming. In doing so, it recognized the pivotal role small-scale farmers play in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and feeding the world’s growing population.

“[Family farmers] don’t just produce food,” wrote José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, and Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). “They simultaneously fulfill environmental, social, and culture functions, and are custodians of biodiversity, preserving landscape, and maintaining community and cultural heritage. Further, they have the knowledge to produce nutritious and culturally appropriate food as part of local traditions.”

The AgriCultures Network sees that this is true firsthand. “We believe that family farming is a unique possibility to build an agroecological way. […] It works with nature and is rooted in the community,” says Paulo Petersen, Director of Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologia, an AgriCultures Network member from Brazil.

Through fostering a sense of ownership and personal relationships among its network members, the AgriCultures Network has built a thriving community of like minded people from around the world. Its magazines and other outreach events prioritize reciprocity, ensuring everyone in the network benefits from the exchange of knowledge and ongoing support.

The AgriCultures Network members believe that family farmers can feed the world—and they’re devoted to convincing others to believe the same.