Farmers go to Rome for climate conversations

May 4, 2023

This week, Solutions from the Land is in Rome to bring farmer voices to two major, international conversations on climate and sustainable development.

Amelia Levin Kent, who raises beef cattle in Louisiana, and Fred Yoder, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat in Ohio, have been sharing their insight and recommendations at the International Agri-Food Network’s (IAFN) Climate, Science and Innovation Forum and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture’s (GACSA) Annual Forum.

International Agri-Food Network Forum

Amelia Levin Kent, an SfL farmer envoy, was among four international farmers and ranchers featured on a panel hosted by Solutions from the Land, Canadian Canola Growers Association and the Global Dairy Platform during the IAFN Climate, Science and Innovation Forum on May 3. The IAFN forum was attended by high-profile, senior Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officials, including FAO General Director Qu Dongyu.

Amelia Levin Kent (a U.S. beef producer), Margaret Munene (a Kenyan dairy producer), Maria Beatriz (an Argentinian soybean farmer) and Marco Pasti (an Italian grain farmer) showcased the technologies and innovative circular approaches they use to both grow nutritious food and improve the environment.

On Kent’s beef cattle operation in Louisiana, she and her husband are experimenting with and implementing varying management practices that improve and balance the needs of the land, their cattle and their economics. They no-till drill ryegrass and clover for winter grazing, which helps feed and protect the soil while also providing nutrition for the cattle (and ultimately a nutrient-dense protein source for people). They focus on each of their properties as its own, independent unit, rotating cattle through those properties based on the growing conditions to allow for optimal forage regrowth.

“We’re focused on having the cows do as much of the work on the property as we can, thus reducing our dependence on machines,” Kent says.

Well managed grazing is a form of circular bioeconomy system. It not only reduces carbon emissions by cutting down on diesel and other greenhouse-gas-generating emissions from machines, it enables cattle to sequester carbon in the soil, which benefits the entire ecosystem while delivering food security.

During the forum, Kent and the other farmers had the opportunity to share the good work they are already doing on their farms and ranches. They also had the chance to present their concerns and ideas for improvement.

“I see a need for constant learning, thinking outside the box, experimentation complete with trial and error, and a focus on all aspects of business,” Kent says. “Too often I see farmers and ranchers focus on one variable of sustainability, so much so that they compromise other aspects of their business. The reality is a steward needs to focus on environmental sustainability and conservation, while simultaneously maintaining viable production levels (for food security) and a viable business (for their livelihood) to allow for further conservation.”

Ernie Shea, Solutions from the Land president, moderated the “Accelerating Farmers Capacities to Concurrently Deliver SDG Solutions Under Climate Change” workshop, which focused on circular bioeconomy systems applications and experimentation—including but not limited to the kind of grazing management Kent practices—to achieve better food and nutrition security outcomes while concurrently delivering a better environment.

FAO officials, represented by Lev Neretin, workstream lead for the environment, also participated, outlining ways FAO can help member countries and their agriculture/forestry producers build capacities and increase implementation of more circular, resource-efficient practices that concurrently achieve food and nutrition security, healthy ecosystem services, robust livelihoods, and other UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“We are excited by this opportunity for farmers to tell their stories—both the incredible things they are doing on the land for people and the environment as well as the challenges they face and opportunities for improvement they see,” Shea says. “We cannot have a conversation about how to improve the sustainability of our food system and natural resources without it being grounded in the experiences and needs of farmers, ranchers and foresters. They are our front-line guardians of the land.”

Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture Forum

Directly following the IAFN forum, the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture is hosting its annual forum on May 4-5. Already, more than 100 people are registered for the hybrid virtual and in-person event. The Annual Forum will be another opportunity to showcase innovative and collaborative approaches to building a more resilient agricultural food system in the context of climate change.

“We have to identify local needs that farmers can relate to rather than only talk about reducing greenhouse gases,” says Fred Yoder, an SfL co-chair and North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) chair. “Mitigating economic risk and building soil resilience—key components of climate-smart agriculture—resonates with farmers on a personal basis. Incentivizing farmers with benefits like these will be a more effective way of creating sustainable development than requiring farmers to change their practices through regulation. That’s why we emphasize being farmer-centric in these international discussions.”

Yoder will moderate a session where regional alliance members will report on the progress they have made in deepening support for climate-smart agriculture systems, practices, programs and investments at the country-level. NACSAA, of which SfL is a member, will share the major achievement of over $20 billion in climate-smart agriculture investments made by the U.S. through the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Ernie Shea will moderate a session in which a diverse panel of GACSA members will spotlight innovative approaches, systems, technologies, practices and programs they are using to sustainably intensify production; adapt and improve resilience; reduce or sequester greenhouse gas emissions; and concurrently achieve food and nutrition security, healthy ecosystem services, robust livelihoods and other of the SDGs.

Featured speakers will include:

  • Dr. Shamie Zingore, director of research and development for the African Plant Nutrition Institute, will share about the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program in Africa.
  • Terry Cosby, chief of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will share about climate-smart agriculture programs for farmers in the U.S.
  • Dr. Allison Morrill Chatrchyan, senior research associate at Cornell University’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, will share about Cornell’s Climate-Smart Agriculture Knowledge Sharing Program.

The conversation will focus on the work these presenters are doing to deliver land-based solutions to problems like food insecurity, loss of biodiversity and water issues. They’ll also share insight on what could help scale up adoption of climate-smart agriculture systems and practices in their regions.

SfL thanks Amelia and Fred for meeting with Rome-based agencies and partners during the busy spring farm and ranch season, and we look forward to more opportunities to place producers at the forefront of global conversations about the future of food systems and agriculture.

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.