Behind all our food, there is always someone who produced, planted, harvested, fished or transported it.
In the run up to World Food Day on October 16, the FAO thanks these #FoodHeroes who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food for their communities and beyond.
Female Farmer, Western Georgia
Irina Vasilyeva, a female farmer from Western Georgia, is a living example of how access to technical knowledge and innovation can empower smallholder farmers to become agents of change.
Entire families in Irina’s ancient village of Vartsikhe, Bagdati municipality have been involved in farming for centuries. As COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on tourism and restaurant businesses increased last year, Irina struggled in vain to sell her produce at a market in Kutaisi, the main city in Western Georgia.
Things have changed thanks to FAO’s and the EU’s support and new Farmer Field Schools and demonstration plots in the area have brought innovative farming methods to Irina’s village.
Learning how to improve crops
“I heard that FAO agronomists were visiting a seedling production facility nearby, so I attended the meeting and showed them my records. I always record what I do on my farm and I told them that I wanted to learn how to improve the quality of my crops,” Irina says, describing how she first got involved with FAO.
Irina learnt that modern agricultural practices – drip irrigation, mulching and beds formation – could greatly improve the production of cucumbers, tomatoes and salad herbs in her three greenhouses.
Now, Irina can produce lettuce in winter without greenhouse heating. Off-season production allows her to avoid competition, while high-quality produce and reduced costs has helped her to overcome the hardships of the pandemic.
More local women in the village are now moving into agriculture to supplement family income. FAO selected Irina’s plot as a demonstration plot for agricultural training and as a food hero, she is actively sharing her knowledge and experience.
Assistant Professor of Horticulture, Zhejiang University
Ye Ming’er, an assistant professor of horticulture at Zhejiang University, has been promoting fruit tree technology for 35 years. His innovative approach has boosted citrus and Yang Mei fruit growth and yield, producing high-quality fruits and increasing farmers’ income in Zhejiang Province, East China.
Protected cultivation reduces the use of pesticides by shielding crops from pests and disease. It also limits weed growth, which in turn improves root nutrient uptake, meaning the trees need less water.
Improving farmer livelihoods
Ye Ming’er has effectively combined traditional cultivation of Huangyan Miju – a famous local variety of citrus – with resource-friendly and innovative techniques. He employs intelligent temperature control and water saving-irrigation to reduces oil salinity, a side effect of greenhouse cultivation. This protects both the soil and fruits, as well as the farmers’ livelihoods that depend on them.
Ye Ming’er has had similar success with Yang Mei which have grown in China for over 2,000 years. His new efficient cultivation techniques for the Dongkui variety bred by Zhejiang University have produced trees that bear fruit earlier, with superior quality and higher yields.
Dongkui is now the most popular variety of Myrica rubra used in China, representing roughly 60% of the Bayberry tree varieties grown over about 400,000 hectares. It has spread rapidly to underdeveloped mountainous areas becoming a symbol of wealth for farmers in both Eastern and Western China. In 2006, for example, income per capita for farmers in Kantou Village, Zhejiang Province was estimated at 8118 yuan (approximately USD 1,255), 74% of which came from Dongkui cultivation.
As a food hero, Ye Ming’er demonstrates how innovative and adaptable cultivation techniques can improve crop growth and yields, protect natural resources and improve farmers’ livelihoods.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of FAO.