Farmers from different backgrounds get together in Switzerland

Article, 27.06.2014

A one-day conference was held on 27 June 2014 at the Grangeneuve Agricultural Institute in the Canton of Fribourg to mark the International Year of Family Farming. The event, co-financed by the SDC, provided an occasion for friendly and informative discussions between farmers from different countries. The schedule also featured several visits to Swiss farms, the offshoot of a Facebook information campaign.

“Are your herds devastated by epizootics?” – “Does the winter fodder you feed your cattle produce cheese of the same quality as when the cattle graze on pasture?” A torrent of interested questions flowed in Estavannens, a village in the picturesque Gruyère region of Fribourg, at the end of a sun-filled day. Half a dozen farmers from distant climes, interested to see how Swiss farms operate, were welcomed at the farm of Fabienne and Jacques Pharisa.

Amongst the guests visiting Estavannens were Miguel Ortega from Bolivia, Evelyn Nguleka from Zambia and Dan Cismas from Romania. They were all keen to see a concrete example of the Swiss-developed model of a family farm.

The visit was a side event to the National Day of Family Farming organised at the Grangeneuve Agricultural Institute on 27 June 2014, at which the SDC, amongst other speakers, emphasised the importance of supporting small farm productivity if we are to reduce global poverty.

Different realities…

“This is the dropping pit for the laying hens”, explained Jacques Pharisa. The Estavannens visit proceeded at rapid pace, as there was so much to see. Milk production and eggs (up to 12,000 per day!), a huge fodder storage hangar… Dan Cismas, visiting from Romania, with his wife, compared it to his own farm with a wry smile: “With 15 cows and 200 hens at the most, we’re not playing in the same league! On our farm, production is, let’s say… more organic.”

Another conspicuous difference: the direct payments made to Swiss farmers by the Swiss Confederation. Michel Ortega, whose cattle graze on the Bolivian altiplano, was envious of his Fribourg counterpart: “We have a compensation system for loss of livestock, but no form of state subsidy whatsoever for our agricultural activities.”

… but a common purpose

Nevertheless, farmers worldwide share a common purpose: to be recognised for who they are and what they do, in a constantly changing international, economic and climatic context. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that there are over 500 million smallholdings across the world, producing 56% of the food we consume.

“At home in Zambia, the work done by farmers is making the country self-sufficient in food”, recounts Evelyn Nguleka, vice president of the World Farmers’ Organisation. “But now, foreign investors are arriving and disrupting the market with their large-scale acquisition of family land. It is essential that our farmers realise the role they play. The United Nations-designated International Year of Family Farming is a step in the right direction.”

On Facebook

The Swiss Farmers’ Union has come up with its own initiative to highlight the considerable work performed by farmers and their contribution to economic development: an educational, interactive and fun internet portal which follows the daily life of 33 farming families from all over Switzerland and beyond. In keeping with the modern era, the website (translated into French, German and Italian) redirects visitors to the individual Facebook pages of each family.

Miguel Ortega and Dan Cismas are both participants in this initiative. Since the beginning of 2014, as part of a programme set up by Helvetas and supported by the SDC, they recount the events which, as the seasons pass, shape their family lives. Concrete information is displayed, such as this message posted on 19 March 2014 by the Ortega family: “Every day we walk to the fields on the altiplano to work. We always take our donkey with us. Today it carries the traditional ‘aguayos’ that we wear to keep off the cold in the morning and towards the close of day. Then, when the children are tired, the donkey carries them back home.”

Illustrated with beautiful photos, the accounts provided by Miguel Ortega and Dan Cismas echo those of the three other families who represent the world at large from Honduras and Kyrgyzstan to the South Tyrol.

Solidarity in “global” format

In addition to informing the public, the Facebook project and the in situ exchange visits will have succeeded if they provide farmers from across the world with new impetus to promote their work. “Spending a few minutes in the evening reporting about my day on Facebook makes me think about what I do and why”, explains Dan Cismas. For her part, Fabienne Pharisa talks about how one of her daughters is due to return from three week’s trekking in Peru: “She already told me by email that she managed to visit three family farms over there…” Solidarity amongst the international farming community is definitely developing in a “global” format.