July - August 2022

Family farming in Paraguay and its relationship with nature

Family farming in Paraguay is the most representative sector in rural areas as it represents 84% of people living in the countryside; in spite of this, according to the data from the latest agricultural census of 2008, these people only own 4% of the productive land.

Despite the limited extent of lands for crops, this sector is essential in the fight against poverty and hunger because it is the main supplier of foodstuffs and the main employment option in rural areas, keeping in mind that in Latin America it provides, according to several studies, between 27 and 67% of the food eaten.

The Brundtland Report (1987) establishes that there is a link between poverty and environmental degradation, in which poverty degrades the environment but, at the same time, a degraded environment creates poverty and affects it. According to several authors, depletion of resources is one of the main causes of poverty and hunger.

As Gerald G. Martes explains in his work Human Ecology: Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development, Human Ecology aims to understand the relationship which exists between human beings and the environment, where the environment is seen as an ecosystem (including manmade things) which relates to a social system, composed of values, social organisation, knowledge and technology. Here we are presenting the relationship of family farming with four basic resources: land, seeds, water and forest.

One of the main problems currently being faced is to do with access to land in sufficient quantity and of sufficient quality to keep the production systems going. According to the data for 2008, 35% of households own less than five hectares, not enough to guarantee production of traditional crops such as maize, cassava and kidney beans to satisfy food and economic needs. Furthermore, even with these smallholdings, family farming faces another problem, that of precarious ownership as only 40% of plots of less than 20 hectares have title deeds.

The main crops in family faming in Paraguay are cassava; maize of the chipa, locro and pichinga varieties; kidney beans; and they also keep pigs and poultry. In addition to these traditional crops, they also produce sesame, sugar cane, stevia, different vegetables, bananas, pineapples, and other fruit. Traditionally, most of these crops were produced from their own seeds, but this became increasingly difficult due to the introduction of improved seeds and the loss of seeds due to storage difficulties. To deal with this problem, some peasant organisations are carrying out actions to try to rescue, recover and preserve the seeds of the more traditional crops and of some species brought in from outside.

Access to drinking water systems has improved over the last few years. According to the STP (Secretaría Técnica de Planificación del Desarrollo Económico y Social, Technical Secretariat for Planning and Social and Economic Development) data from the National Development Plan, 85% of households in Paraguay have access to sources of treated (clean) water and 63% to the water supply network. Many of these watercourses are currently seeing their volume reduce for several reasons such as drought, deforestation, the drying up of wetlands, blockages and other reasons caused by humans.

Access to the small, remaining areas of woodland is still possible for many people mainly because many family plots of land have small areas of degraded forest. Access to these areas provides families with food, firewood and building materials.

But this situation is increasingly being compromised as many rural peasant homes feel the effects of environmental degradation in their communities, the main causes of which are the expansion of soya farming and the use of agrochemicals.


Ana Lucía Giménez is a member of the Unidad Gestión de la Presidencia de la República del Gobierno de Paraguay (The Union Management of the Presidency of the Government of the Republic of Paraguay) and works as a Coordinator for Social Innovation under the National Innovation Strategy; Federico Vargas teaches at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences  at the Asunción National University, Paraguay (more information on this degree is available on social media, on Facebook as «Carrera de Ingeniería en Ecología Humana» and on Instagram @ecologiahumanaparaguay. Federico Vargas took part in the 2019 Temporary exhibition Human Ecology in Paraguay and its contribution to rural development (in Spanish).