A Farmer’s Reflections from COP 26

November 17, 2021

(The following guest blog was authored by SfL Co-Chair A.G. Kawamura, a California produce grower and shipper, a former state Secretary of Agriculture in California, and a member of the SfL contingent at the global climate negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland.)

In December of 2009, I joined other elected California leaders in attending COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark. While there representing California agriculture, it became painfully clear to me that the discussion around climate change was moving rapidly forward but without any inclusion or realization that agriculture and the global food supply was going to be one of the central areas of impact in a world with significant shifts in weather patterns.

At that time, agriculture ministers from around the world were not invited into the conversations taking place “inside the tent” and many of us from sub-national governments could barely gain access to any of the internal meetings and presentations. That experience prompted several of us to call for greater access to the negotiations and drove us to work collaboratively towards solutions for common goals. It was at that conference that Solutions from the Land (SfL) was conceived and created.

A group of farmer leaders and the heads of key non-governmental operations that had been involved in renewable energy through the 25x’25 alliance decided to dedicate time and resources towards a pathway forward (the Pathways Report) for U.S. Agriculture. The SfL Dialogue was that initial effort to bring thought leaders from around the country together to envision how the future of agriculture might be approached and embraced. With each new COP, we have continued to work hard to introduce and promote this sustainable vision for agriculture. The latest iteration of our work is embodied in the 21st Century Agriculture Renaissance Report. Global climate talks continue to be the venue for creating powerful alliances and vision for the decades ahead.

Still, we continue to see a lack of comprehension among many COP participants of how the global agricultural food systems are performing or will be delivering food, feed and fiber to a demanding world under climate-related mitigation regimes. The lack of a multi-dimensional voice for agriculture at these COP events has been a troubling part of the dialogue that has led to a failure to understand that “unpredictable weather causes unpredictable harvest.”

This “missing voice” has driven our SfL team to show up over the past six sessions of COP and advocate for inclusion into these climate deliberations. Along with a handful of agricultural organizations, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and other aligned, nongovernmental organizations, the farmers, ranchers, fishermen and foresters of the world are beginning to raise their concerns and voices as they realize that non-farmers, non-ranchers, non-fishermen and non-foresters are planning and plotting their futures – or their demise.

It has been SfL’s contention over the past decade that agriculture is providing many of the clearly needed solutions of carbon sequestration, habitat protection, resource utilization, renewable fuels, nutrient dense foods, job creation and many other multiple benefits sought by COP negotiators when successful, sustainable agriculture is thriving.

As global climate negotiators prioritize their climate commitments, the relatively small number of agricultural advisors and experts – and an even smaller number of actual producers, including farmers, ranchers, foresters and fishermen – must look for opportunities of inclusion in the discussions. The negative focus on agriculture as the problem instead of agriculture as the solution complicates the platform for mitigation, adaptation, transformation and resilience.

A case in point are the calls for methane emissions reduction that regularly allude to animal agriculture and specifically to the dairy industry, even at a time when that industry has been making great progress on modifying feed, manure management for energy creation and other soil amendments for fertility enhancements.

Part of the challenge for agriculture is the lack of understanding of just how dynamic the 21st-century toolbox has become. As many new technologies mature, the options and opportunities for transformation accelerate. That’s why the voice of agriculture needs to be heard so that those making the plans for climate action are not relying on outdated perceptions of what is actually happening on the farm and in the laboratories. New science and new thinking is delivering a cascade of new and improved solutions. In many ways each COP is a “show and tell” opportunity for industries and civil society to demonstrate the latest and best strategies and technologies available and coming soon.

Why should agriculture be a focal point for all future COP events? Because the challenge to feed an estimated global population of 9 billion souls is no small task. The essential endeavor to live within our means on this planet is predicated on the collaborative innovation that comes from understanding what’s in the pitcher and honestly assessing just how full or empty that cup might be. I believe that here in the early part of the 21st century, the pour is much more robust than the fear peddlers want us to know.

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