Solutions from the Land (SfL) Co-Chair A.G. Kawamura recently issued a challenge to a diverse group of California agricultural stakeholders, cautioning that in these often-turbulent political times, those who work the land must come together and assert their role in combatting climate change and other threats to global food security and sustainability.
The California Agriculture Summit, staged last week at UC Riverside by Larta Institute’s Global Ag Innovation Network (GAIN), underscored the prominence of the state’s ag sector, not only as a global provider of food, fiber and fuel, but also as a leader in efforts to address climate change and other environmental issues, all while making efficient, sustainable use of resources.
In his keynote remarks, Kawamura, a California specialty crop grower and shipper, shared a personal anecdote of a neighboring 94-year-old farmer who announced his intention to retire. He noted that since his neighbor was born in 1925, the global population had nearly quadrupled to 7.8 billion people, a growth attributable to agriculture evolving into a predictably productive sector capable of creating enough abundance to consistently feed the world.
But the former Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture also noted that as the 20th century passed, the population of those living in cities outgrew that of rural areas. While that left fewer and fewer to farm and raise livestock, production became increasingly efficient, enabling those who stayed in the fields to meet the needs of a growing population.
Still, that shift in population has created a “disconnect,” by which the cornucopia of food that has enabled the expansion of population has brought with it a complacency and ignorance of how that abundance was reached and is sustained. The luxury of abundance has led to an “indulgence” in criticism from those in our society who have no understanding of the perils of food scarcity, much less a realistic concept of how agriculture must function to meet the world’s growing demands.
To counter the misinformed attacks on ‘global’ agriculture, Kawamura, a former Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, offers the Sustainable Development Goals – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 for achievement by 2030 – as a platform upon which today’s farmers, ranchers, foresters and ag researchers can unite in their vision for the future and develop their strategy for dealing with the challenges ahead. The goals, which are interdependent, cannot be fully achieved without agriculture doing well. And that requires collaboration among diverse stakeholders.
Among the goals is the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combatting desertification, halting and reversing land degradation, and halting biodiversity loss. Kawamura argues that mankind’s agricultural practices have been evolving, albeit slowly, toward that goal for 30,000 years.
The goals also include bringing an end to hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture; and ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns. Of course, a critical goal is to take urgent action to build resilience in the face of changing climate patterns and negative impacts.
Kawamura says understanding the past and present – to better prepare for our agricultural future – is where the agricultural sector must align its thinking and efforts. While the root cause of climate change is still being debated by some, most farmers understand and agree that changing climatic patterns and unpredictable weather are major threat multipliers that lead to unpredictable harvests.
The goals are vast in their scope and, to some, seemingly unattainable. However, Kawamura says, what our ancestors once thought was impossible has moved to feasible. And what is feasible becomes reality so much faster than ever before. Agricultural stakeholders should embrace the challenge of accomplishing the sustainable development goals in our lifetime.
It’s a unifying vision that SfL endorses at its core, as evidenced by our recently updated mission statement:
By 2030, America’s farms, ranches and forests are at the forefront of resolving food system, energy, environmental and climate challenges and achieving global sustainable development goals.
As Kawamura noted in his remarks at the California summit, “Successful farming sustains humanity.”