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Version française de cette page : Pourquoi faut-il protéger les agricultures paysannes du monde?

Why must the world’s family farms be protected?

A report by Marcel Mazoyer. FAO, 2001. Updated with Mazoyer’s conference at the Gabriel Peri Foundation in 2006.

Documents sources

Mazoyer, Marcel. Protecting Small Farmers and the Rural Poor in the Context of Globalization. FAO, 2001.

Two billion human beings out of the six billion that make up the world’s population suffer from malnutrition and 854 million go hungry according to the FAO’s latest estimations for 2001-2003. Three-fourths of the undernourished are either poorly located farmers on poor land with poor equipment, or are former farmers banished to the slums.

Understanding the origins of poverty and malnutrition is something absolutely fundamental for being able to fight its causes. This becomes an unavoidable question as soon as the current challenges of land, water and natural resource governance are addressed. If profound changes in how the global market of agricultural products functions are not made, there will be no possible sustainable development, nor effective land reforms.

Marcel Mazoyer, professor emeritus at the Institut National Agronomique and honorary member of AGTER, was the first to explain the mechanisms that are at the root of the current crisis.

The document, “Protecting Small Farmers and the Rural Poor in the Context of Globalization” clearly presents the problem and drafts ideas for solutions in about twenty pages. It was made available for government representatives and the International NGO/SCO Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) in preparation for the Multi-Partner Dialogue of the World Food Summit: 5 Years Later. The paper is available on the FAO’s website, and for easy access, is also available for download in French, English, and Spanish off our website.

Marcel Mazoyer shows how the widespread drop in agricultural prices has been provoked by both agricultural development and recent competition among agricultures with dissimilar productivity levels. On account of this, the basic survival of millions of poor farmers is threatened. Rich countries’ agricultural subsidies are not at the root of this mechanism, yet they contribute by worsening the consequences.

Marcel Mazoyer proposes a gradual increase in agricultural prices, by means of policies that are based on:

  • the implementation of large, free trade zones for agricultural products, which would group together countries having comparable farm outputs, and would protect these “large agricultural markets” from low-priced imports resulting from foreign surplus;

  • product-by-product negotiations for international agreements that establish, in the fairest manner possible, a mean export price as well as authorized export quota for each product’s market;

  • the reduction of the differences in farm revenues by means of differentiated territorial taxes, which would be relatively heavy for advantaged regions and inexistent or negative for disadvantaged regions. Meanwhile, laws preventing accumulation would need to be made.

Even if the world hunger data presented in the document, “Protecting Small Farmers and the Rural Poor in the Context of Globalization” needs to be updated, the presentation of the causes of poverty and the demonstration of its mechanisms has never been more up-to-date.

As stated in the FAO’s 2006 State of Food Security in the World, the situation has been getting worse over the past few years:

Virtually no progress has been made towards the WFS (World Food Summit) target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. Since 1990-1992, the baseline period for the WFS target, the undernourished population in developing countries has declined by only 3 million people: from 823 million to 820 million. This contrasts starkly with the reduction of 37 million achieved in the 1970s and of 100 million in the 1980s. Moreover, the most recent trends are a cause for concern—a decline of 26 million between 1990-92 and 1995-97 was followed by an increase of 23 million up to 2001-03.” FAO’s 2006 report on food security

During a conference organized by the Fondation Gabriel Peri in October 2006, before having access to the data contained in the FAO report, Marcel Mazoyer specified:

“852 million people are undernourished, which means 37 million more people than ten years ago. From 1971 to 1994, the data from the first World Food Summit indicated that numbers had decreased from 920 million to 815 million. With today’s numbers (2004-2005), this increase can be officially reported. If the nine million people each year that die of hunger were added, the increase would have been 90 million plus 37 million, making 127 million. Thus, we can confirm that if the number of undernourished people decreases, it decreases because they die. The poor and the poorest of the poor are those who go hungry. Hunger is the most acute form of poverty; they are not two different things. Poverty is the incapacity to produce or to buy what one needs to survive.”1

Michel Merlet

1read the full text of his lecture and look at the video on the website of the Gabriel Peri Foundation []


Mazoyer M., Roudart L. Histoire des agricultures du monde : du néolithique à la crise contemporaine. Paris (FRA) : Seuil, 2002 - 699 p. - 2e éd. -(History)

Roudart, L. (éd.); Mazoyer, M. (éd.). La fracture agricole et alimentaire mondiale : Nourrir l’humanité aujourd’hui et demain. Paris : Universalis, 2005. - 196 p. - (Extensive discussion of this topic).

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