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Join the FAO e-conference on “The Role of Small Farms Within a Larger Context of Food Security” (19 March - 9 April 2018)

FAO organizes an email conference on “The Role of Small Farms Within a Larger Context of Food Security” from 19 March to 9 April 2018.


This e-conference is intended to provide further feedback on what has been learned so far from the work in the EU-funded Horizon 2020 research project on “Small Farms, Small Food Businesses and Sustainable Food Security”, commonly known as SALSA project (see more background on the project below). The e-conference will help identifying key knowledge gaps, as well as to share examples that will contribute to build the SALSA empirical base. Using this second e-conference, the SALSA team wants to catalyse and foster an ongoing dialogue with relevant stakeholders. This is the second e-conference carried out within the SALSA project. The previous e-conference took place in October 2016. 462 participants provided a total of 99 contributions, which result in a significant input to the SALSA project. More information on the first e-conference, the main input and summary can be found here.

Who is expected to participate?

The virtual discussion is intended to draw the attention of researchers, educators, students and a wide spectrum of food chain/food system actors and entrepreneurs, as well as policy makers and administrators at multiple levels, on the role of small farms within a larger context. The e-conference is also open to all who wish to share their insights and discuss “The Role of Small Farms Within a Larger Context of Food Security”. While the participation in the e-conference remains free and voluntary, all participants are encouraged to actively contribute with their experiences.

How to participate?

If you wish to join the e-conference, please send an email to AIS@fao.org, specifying:

•Your email address to be registered on the list.

•Full name, organisation, institute or company you work for, and your position (or simply note “private” if you want to participate on their own behalf).

Please feel free and encouraged to engage your colleagues or anyone in your professional network to take part in this e-conference.


The e-conference's overarching topics The e-conference will focus on six specific topics:

#1: Cooperation among small farms

#2: Small farms’ contribution to resilience of the food system

#3: Strategies used by small farms to overcome challenges – a view of the past

#4: How small farms address future challenges?

#5: The importance of food businesses to small farms

#6: How can policies affect small farm activities and their resilience?


The e-conference will run from 19 March to 9 April 2018, with weekly summaries posted by the moderator to recap main points and stimulate further dialogue.

How is the e-conference organized?

The e-conference is a virtual discussion linking up the participants via a central email distribution server. Participants send input and engage in online discussions via email, facilitated by a moderator. This means participants can provide their input at any time convenient to them during the e-conference period. All contributions will be distributed to the e-conference participants, via the email conference server.

Background document

The full background information and detailed topic questions can be found in this background document (also attached at the bottom of this page). It will guide you to further contextualize the discussions, and to understand the basic guidelines to contribute to the e-conference.


------ About the SALSA Project

The project “Small Farms, Small Food Businesses and Sustainable Food Security” (SALSA project) aims to provide a better understanding of the current and potential contribution of small farms and food businesses to sustainable food and nutrition security. Supported by the EU-funded Horizon 2020 program, a coalition of 16 European and African partners are collaborating in assessing the role of small farms and small food businesses in delivering a sustainable and secure supply of affordable, nutritious and culturally adequate food. The SALSA project began in April 2016 and runs for 48 months. In the project the partners have adopted a novel, transdisciplinary, multi-scale approach across 30 regions in Europe and Africa that builds on and connects relevant theoretical and analytic frameworks within a food system approach. Using this perspective, the project is looking beyond production capacity, and investigating food security in terms of the availability of nutritious and safe food, food access and control (including affordability), food utilisation, and food stability.


My name is Pavlos Karanikolas. I am an Assistant Professor at the Agricultural University of Athens, Greece, and member of the Greek team of SALSA Project.
This is a comment on Q. 2.1:

Recent research conducted in the Greek region of Ileia shows that the vulnerability of Ileia’s citrus fruit subsystem has increased by the processes of intensification and mechanization, as well as by the loss of biodiversity and tacit knowledge. These mechanisms make the system more vulnerable, thus undermining its adaptive and transformative capacities. On the contrary, a series of other processes have strengthened the system, such as diverse livelihood strategies on behalf of small farms/households; the significant role of some co-ops in the concentration of production, the collective bargaining of prices and the exercise of a countervailing power within the agri-food chain; the existence of well-established marketing channels allowing access to domestic and foreign markets; macroeconomic stability and low unemployment rates up to 2010; the cost structure of the three main products (oranges, olive oil and mandarins) allows for the attainment of a profit even at very small scales of production for a significant part of the surveyed farms.

Moreover, the resilience of the regional food system is undermined by the hard austerity macroeconomic policies applied to the Greek economy since 2010. Besides drastically reducing available funds for agriculture, crisis has undermined two other critical mechanisms which for a long time have supported the persistence/sustainability of family farms: (a) the substitution of family labour with hired labour on-farm and the ability to reallocate family labour between on-farm and off-farm activities, and (b) the ability of farm households to finance their farms, in terms of working capital and investments, especially in times of losses. Both of these mechanisms are of paramount importance for a large part of the surveyed small farms, most of which rely mostly on non-farm sources of income for their livelihoods, while half of them are not sustainable in the long run without non-farm sources of funding. On the other hand, as a result of economic hardship of farmers, the use of chemical fertilizers has most probably decreased considerably in Ileia, a fact that will be beneficial to the environment, as well as possibly positive for yields.

Furthermore, small farms always run the additional risk of extreme fragmentation which constantly erodes any achievements, especially in the context of power asymmetry within the broader agri-food system. In other words, SFs have to reach a minimum size threshold, either individually or through collaboration/synergies/networking, if they are to survive. In our analysis, this is indicated by the high percentage of non-viable small farms.
Thus, serious concerns are expressed as to the capacity of the regional food system as well as of the subsystem of citrus fruits to respond effectively to the challenges they face. The effective response to these challenges requires actions such as: (a) the cultivation of new citrus varieties, i.e. a reorganization of the system through new investments, which is hindered by the unfavorable economic environment of austerity macroeconomic policies applied to the Greek economy since 2010; it is also hampered by the above mentioned mechanisms that make the system more vulnerable; (b) the creation of a learning environment among farmers, which will favor the dissemination of existing practices of some small farms that successfully integrate scientific with traditional knowledge, such as site-specific fertilization after thorough soil analysis, the targeted-differentiated pruning of trees and an effective plant protection. This learning environment can strengthen the adaptive capacity of farms, and contribute to the resilience of the system after each successive shock.