Returning farmers to the centre of policy decisions is fundamental to sustainable development. Governments, businesses, scientists and civil society groups must focus attention on the source of our food security.

All these groups must work together to enable the many millions of farm families, especially smallholders, to grow more crops sustainably through effective markets, more collaborative research and committed knowledge sharing. A broad-based, farmer-centric, knowledge-centred approach to agricultural development is needed.

The Farming First framework proposes six interlinked imperatives for sustainable development:

1. Safeguard natural resources

Land management should be improved through the widespread adoption of sustainable practices of land use.

  • Conservation agriculture can be used to prevent soil erosion and land degradation
  • Manage watersheds and water use more efficiently
  • Protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity through an integrated ecosystems approach
  • Provide incentives for improving ecosystem services
  • Promote a sound management of chemical substances, including through the improvement of health and safety conditions for agricultural workers.
2. Share knowledge

While much of the knowledge needed to improve global agriculture already exists, including within remote indigenous communities, it often does not reach those farmers that could benefit most.

  • Increase the level of education on crop and natural resource management for farmers and agricultural workers, including women.
  • Take substantive measures to eliminate child labour and make sure children benefit from decent work conditions and access to education.
  • Promote the development of village-based knowledge centres.
  • Provide access to scalable information technologies for farmers, including women and young farmers, to receive weather, crop and market alerts, as well as other early warning systems to help them make the right decisions for sustainability and productivity.
  • Establish open and transparent two-way exchanges that capture the 'voice of the farmer' in the process of policy formulation and implementation.
3. Build local access and capacity

Fundamental resources should be available to farmers, including women and young farmers, to help them manage their production process more reliably and at less cost.

  • Secure access to land and water resources, especially for women farmers.
  • Provide rural access to microfinance services, especially to microcredit.
  • Build infrastructure - particularly roads and ports - to make supplies available to farmers.
  • Establish training programs in infrastructure management, operations and maintenance for local and regional settings
  • Improve access to agricultural inputs and services, including mechanical tools, seeds, fertilizers, and crop protection materials.
  • Encourage and co-ordinate multiple local actors to ensure information and supplies get into farmers' hands.
  • Invest in bioenergy where it contributes to energy security and to rural development.
4. Enabled access to markets

Farmers need to be able to get their products to market and receive equitable price treatment when they do.

  • Provide remote access to up-to-date market pricing information
  • Develop well functioning markets through transparent information, fair prices, sound infrastructure and reduced speculation
  • Encourage co-operative approaches to marketing for smallholders
  • Improve smallholder farmers' marketing skills through entrepreneurship training
  • Reduce market distortions to improve opportunities for all strata of agriculture worldwide
5. Protect harvests

In many of the poorest countries, 20-40% of crop yields are lost because of inadequate pre- and post-harvest support. Likewise, vast quantities of food are squandered during production and consumption phases of the food chain.

  • Build local storage facilities and transportation mechanisms, including cold chain storage for food preservation.
  • Localise the application of agronomic knowledge, pest-identification and meteorological information.
  • Educate the public on sustainable consumption and production needs and behaviours, including on the need to reduce food waste.
  • Provide risk management tools to support farmers in managing weather and market variations.
6. Prioritise research imperatives

Achieving sustainable agriculture requires intensified, continuous research, prioritising locally relevant crops, stewardship techniques, and adaptation to climate change.

  • Conduct agronomic research on issues of water, soil fertility, post-harvest losses, climate change, and alternative uses for by-products.
  • Conduct research into crop varieties needed by the poorest and most vulnerable regions.
  • Promote farmer-centred research in accordance with their needs.
  • Improved productivity through the responsible use of science and technology.
  • Establish public-private research collaboration around integrated solutions.
  • Increase investments from governments and business toward relevant R&D.
  • Investigate alternative uses for agriculture-based by-products along the value chain.

New investments, incentives and innovations are needed to achieve greater social and environmental sustainability, while delivering increased agricultural production. These benefits must be made available to all farmers and agricultural workers, recognising their role as guardians of our shared environment, biodiversity, and ecosystems. There is a need for a radical shift in thinking which places the farmer at the centre of sound and sustainable agricultural practices.

What tools and information do they need to effectively steward the land, grow crops, and then get their harvest to market? What policy environments can help deliver both productivity and sustainability, while leading to a more equitable and efficient production system? How can better functioning markets and sustainable local and regional infrastructure contribute to improved economic development, providing food security, decent work, fair prices and improved land management?

Download the Farming First action plan to learn more.