From Local to Global – Shifting the Conversation to Small-Scale Farmers

Think. Shop. Buy. Local. This slogan is likely familiar to you by now. You’ve also probably witnessed local farmer’s markets sprout up around your neighborhood or had a friend tell you about the benefits of buying local. Across North America over the past few years there has been a remarkable surge of interest in eating locally produced food and all for good reason.

The world is awakening to the fact that local small farmers play a key role in protecting our biodiversity and natural resources, as well as being instrumental to the economic well-being of our communities.

So why is Yellow Seed supporting global small-scale farmers?

Firstly, the ‘buy local campaign’ is really about re-introducing Americans to their food – the seeds it grows from, the farmers who produce it, and the communities that are affected along the route from the fields to our tables.

It’s about shifting away from large-scale agribusiness oriented agriculture and recognizing small-scale farmers as catalysts for a transformation of the way the world manages the supply of food and the environmental services that underpin agriculture in the first place.

We care about ‘local food’ because it supports sustainable farming practices, enhances biodiversity, supports our communities, uses less energy in transport, and is an investment in the future. Small-scale farmers share many of the same values.

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Small-scale farmers support sustainable farming. Small-scale farmers tend to be good stewards of the land – they respect and value fertile soil and clean water. They create more resilient food systems by using natural fertilizers and organic pest control. In contrast, industrial farming, negatively impacts the environment in myriad ways like polluting the air, degrading soil quality, inducing erosion and accelerating the loss of biodiversity through monocultures.

Small-scale farmers enhance biodiversity. While large commercial farms grow a relatively small number of hybrid fruits and vegetables, family farms grow a huge number of varieties. Many varieties are “heirlooms” passed down through the generations because of their excellent flavor. Older varieties contain the genetic structure of hundreds or thousands of years of human selection and may provide the diversity needed to thrive in a changing climate.

Small-scale farmers support local economies. Unlike large industrial farms, small family farms are more likely to spend their dollars in the community on farm-related inputs like seeds and farm supplies. Plus, local farmers who receive a fair price for their products may earn enough money to send their kids to school, pay for health care and buy more land. Economic growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in any other sector.

Small-scale farmers are an investment in the future. By supporting small-scale farmers today, you are helping to ensure that there will be sustainable farms tomorrow. And that is a matter of importance for food security.

So what about the transportation and energy costs of buying global?

Many of you may be thinking, sure, but one of the reasons I buy local is so that less energy is used on transporting food, because I’m worried about our dependence on oil and climate change.

Yes! That’s really smart. But not everything we eat and drink can be sourced locally unfortunately. Unless you are ready to give some things up? That’s why Yellow Seed is working with small-scale farmers that have products you can’t source easily in North America.

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The world’s love of chocolate, for example, is not about to change any time soon. At last count, the chocolate confectionery market was an $80bn a year global industry. Most of the world’s cocoa however, is grown in a narrow belt 20 degrees either side of the Equator because cocoa trees grow well in humid tropical climates with regular rains and a short dry season. Namely, parts of South and Central America, Africa, and Asia. Unlike large, industrialized crops, 80% to 90% of cocoa comes from small, family-run farms, with approximately five to six million cocoa farmers worldwide. But cocoa growers today receive about 6% of the price that consumers in rich countries pay for chocolate.

Similarly, North American culture has been built around the coffee revolution, and likely the people would revolt if we tried to take their coffee away. In fact, according to the National Coffee Association, about 83% of U.S. adults drink coffee in one form or another. Coffee trees, like cacao trees, produce their best beans when grown along the Equatorial zone, in a tropical climate with rich soil. Coffee farms are the economic livelihood of over 25 million people but coffee is also a labour intensive crop that frequently yields very little financial return.

Ultimately, there are millions of sustainable small-scale farmers worldwide that have the same passion, integrity and values as our local farmers. Supporting these farmers has the potential to unleash a new and sustainable agricultural revolution, just like the local farmer’s markets have done. All that’s missing is a way to ethically and effectively link these farmers to modern markets. Let’s start a revolution!

Welcome to Yellow Seed.

Check out this report to learn more.

http://www.ifad.org/climate/resources/smallholders_report.pdf

 Smallholders, food security, and the environment: woman harvesting cacao beans in forest

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