Farmer Reflections of COP 28 Provide Hope

December 18, 2023

As the COP 28 deliberations came to a close, the annual ritual of one step forward two steps back was missing for agriculture – despite a struggle to include the term “farmers” in the final ministerial text. It’s the result of more than a decade’s worth of hard work by farmers across the globe, our partners, Solutions from the Land (SfL) and our farmer envoys to get to this point. As we all arrived back home, it’s been something we’ve been able to rejoice about and keep top of mind as we navigate our next steps.  

“The many conversations with different types of people at COP 28 were a key highlight of my experience, both the formal and informal opportunities to learn about their perspective and to share mine as a U.S. farmer,” said Shari Rogge-Fiddler, SfL farmer envoy and president and CEO of Farm Foundation. “Connecting these conversations in the global context at COP 28 was encouraging, to see the hard work of collaboration and understanding during a time when the world is in conflict and polarized. Although the process is slow and complex, I value the structures and processes to enable global collaboration and to have farmers there to elevate our perspectives.”  

Hard Work Pays Off    

According to SfL Co-Chair A.G. Kawamura, it has been 14 years of gentle pressure and relentless perseverance to get agriculture to where it is now on the COP agenda. Working collectively with a growing collaboration of farmer organizations known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Farmers Constituency, SfL members have seen a meaningful shift of strategic thinking and engagement for agricultural inclusion, participation and impact in global discussions.  

The Inaugural Food and Ag Day held on Dec. 10, 2023, at COP 28 represented the first time an entire conference day, with over 200 targeted events, was dedicated to the Global Agri-Food System. As Kawamura explained, “it was a momentous year for attendees – especially first-time ag-driven attendees”.  

Sammi Landsman, SfL delegate and first-time COP attendee said while she was “plagued by the bad press previous conferences had received, and though not all of it was unwarranted,” she wanted to experience it for herself. And it proved to be worth the trip for the recent Cornell University graduate. 

“I had expected to see oil lobbyists and politicians, but actually I saw an amalgamation of community organizers, activists, youths, indigenous people, farmers and NGOs,” said Landsman who also works as a Climate Smart Agriculture Policy Consultant for the FAO. “To me, these are the people who build the COP, who dominate the conversations, and who will ultimately lead the way to a more sustainable future.” 

Like Kawamura, Landsman was amazed by the hundreds of COP 28 events held each day. The types of events varied, “from high-level ministerial meetings, treaty negotiations, official side events and organization side events.”  

“While the high-level meetings may get the press, it was actually in the side events where I found myself most inspired and hopeful for a future on this planet,” Landsman said. “It is one thing to hear repeated false promises from the governing structures we so desperately turn to for action; it is an entirely different thing to connect with, learn from and yearn to embody the spirit and activism of ordinary people doing extraordinary work.” 

Pre-COP Work Sets SfL Stage 

Although pivotal negotiations and discussions took place at COP 28, Kawamura said in the weeks leading up to the conference several statements and position papers were introduced to the ministerial negotiators. These efforts helped set the stage for further deliberations. They also set the stage for one of SfL’s main missions at COP 28: ensuring farmers were not omitted from the governing body’s positions and conversations.  

A pre-COP 28 call to action paper soliciting signatures of support from stakeholders, omitted the terms ‘agriculture’ and ‘farmers’ entirely, replacing them with ‘global food system’ and ‘front line actors’, Kawamura explained. During the conference, as attendees saw yet another omission of agriculture in the Global Stocktake and Sharma el Sheik joint work, Kawamura spoke up on behalf of the UNFCCC Farmers Constituency, urging leaders to reconsider their wording and agriculture’s role.  

“A reliable food supply has never been more essential for humanity to be able to live and thrive on earth,” said Kawamura at the Dec. 8 COP 28 Preliminary Session. “Agriculture, in all of its many dimensions and forms produces that supply, day after day, against a long list of challenges, disruptions and misunderstandings by those who often feel entitled to have access and control of it and its distribution. Farmers are not actors on the stage of humanity. Farmers have built the stage that allows humanity to exist and act out the tragedy, drama or enlightenment of our existence.” 

SfL Co-Chair Ray Gaesser and SfL envoy Javier Cano found that negotiations for the stocktake agreement and Sharm el-Sheikh joint work were only a part of the COP 28 experience they observed while in Dubai.  

“So too is the importance of accurate data to guide decision making and the need to strengthen collection, analysis and use of agriculture and food system data, especially market data for SDG attainment,” said Cano, first-time COP attendee and co-owner of Eurosemillas Group, a Spanish-Latin American company dedicated to the development of plant varieties and other agricultural technologies. 

Conversations surrounding food, health, water security and soil health showed attendees that “agriculture has taken a firm seat at the table” Gaesser added.

“The conversations surrounding agriculture can move us into a sustainable and regenerative future,” Landsman said. “The Loss and Damage fund also coalesces with these goals, but the main thing we need for farmers, and agriculture in general, is for it to be financed in a just, equitable and sustainable way. Farmers will not be able to make the transition to sustainable and regenerative agriculture without proper capacity-building training and resources to make it happen.” 

Importance of Continued Involvement 

As SfL farmer delegate Verity Ulibarri explained, the “dichotomy of a climate conference – with a general ideology of weaning off fossil fuels – in the UAE was a perfect example of why production agriculture and trade are important to improving quality of life.” SfL farmer delegates and fellow ag-focused attendees and partners, provided those without the boots on the ground knowledge, of how agriculture can be and has been a large piece of the puzzle when combatting climate and environmental concerns.  

“This was my second time attending a COP and I am pleased that the ag sector appears to be in alignment overall and I appreciate the network we have,” said Ulibarri, owner/operator of a crop and livestock farm with her husband, Anthony Ulibarri, in Curry County New Mexico. “I believe SfL does a great job leveraging relationships and works quite effectively across various groups in that environment. While there is still much work to be done, it appears that there is a growing presence of agriculture in the conversation. The ag sector overall needs to continue to put actual producers in the mix to have more opportunity to add authenticity to our sector’s perspective.” 

Fellow SfL farmer delegate Brad Doyle shares the same sentiment when thinking about COP 28 conversations. The Arkansas soybean, rice, wheat and grass hay farmer traveled to Dubai to provide a voice for “farmers in the U.S. that are growing crops responsibly and sustainably.” While much progress has been made in recognizing agriculture at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences, he echoes his cohorts’ concerns that there is still much work to be done on the frontlines. 

“(There are individuals) at COP 28 that think agriculture is the problem when it is actually the solution to reduce Greenhouse Gases,” Doyle said. “We can grow renewable fuel right here at home that has 66% less greenhouse gas emissions. We can sequester huge amounts of carbon in the many crops we grow and utilize the most advanced technologies on our farms. (And) technology allows us to be more efficient and cut input costs which reduces energy demand.” 

When country leaders discussed solar power or increased planting of trees to combat climate change in their region, Doyle was reminded of why there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to curbing the negative effects of the climate and food systems challenges we face. Solar-powered energy discussions make more sense in dryer locations where limited water sources will “reduce the survivability of trees.” As farmers are invited into these conversations, innovative and location-specific agriculture solutions can be incorporated into a country’s climate change plans. We need to set ourselves up for success if we’re going to limit the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Moving forward, Kawamura encourages members of the UNFCCC Farmer Constituency to remain focused and patient but persistent as we demonstrate that successful agriculture does indeed sustain civilization. The SfL team is thankful for our farmer envoys and their participation in COP 28 as well as prior conferences throughout the years. 

“You’re each continuing to make a difference as you sustainably utilize the planet’s resources to produce food, feed, fiber, fuel, and ecosystem services and serve as a voice for fellow farmers in the world’s quest to attain United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” Kawamura said.  

For more information on the COP 28 SfL farmer delegates, visit our website.  

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