SfL’s O’Toole Advocates Collaboration to Ensure Sustainable Land, Water Management

June 18, 2021

Representing the world’s farmer constituency, western U.S. rancher Pat O’Toole — member of the SfL board of directors — told an international panel addressing climate change that collaboration is critically important to ensure sustainable land and water management.

As the sole representative of the world’s farmers in the session held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), O’Toole shared with other delegates his family’s historic stewardship of lands along the Colorado-Wyoming border for 140 years.

“During that span of time,” O’Toole said, “we have been truly fortunate to have shared productive and truly collaborative relationships with our community and our federal and state government partners.”

O’Toole’s written statement  and video were prepared for delegates from around the globe drawn together to address sustainable land and water management, including integrated watershed management strategies, to ensure food security.

He said multi-stakeholder collaborations that bring together landowners, farmers, scientists, governments, the private sector, the food and agriculture value chain, the forestry and aquaculture sectors, and civil society are needed at different landscape levels (watershed, country and region, among others) to monitor, develop, and implement land and water uses and management policies that enable priority economic, social and environmental outcomes.

He said he and his family have been successful at a watershed level at the headwaters of the Colorado River because of community leadership that has “been able to look at a watershed in a way that values conservation as well as production.

“With competent leadership and a community that works together towards common goals, great things can be achieved,” said O’Toole, the longtime president of the Family Farm Alliance, which advocates policies that ensure the availability of reliable, affordable irrigation water needed to produce food, fiber and fuel.

Held under the auspices of the UNFCCC’s Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, an historic policy adopted by UN members in 2017 to underscore the role of farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners in achieving global climate goals, this week’s workshop sought to lay out the efforts that will be necessary to ensure land and water management practices that guarantee food security.

O’Toole’s call for “uncommon collaborations” that build trust, a core principle outlined in SfL’s 21st Century Agriculture Renaissance Report,  was among four essential points he shared with fellow delegates. He also said that it was critical to understand water resources and to prioritize water practices, infrastructure and policies that balance production and conservation. He warned that pressure is growing to ‘solve’ current urban and environmental water shortages by simply moving water away from irrigated agriculture. O’Toole said a diversified water management portfolio that provides benefits to multiple use sectors is needed.

He said production must exceed food security and must also offer nutritious healthy foods and healthy ecosystems that integrate livestock-crop diversification systems with food and nutrition research and policies. The variation is needed to achieve the 17 interconnected UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include ending hunger, ensuring clean water, providing clean energy and stemming climate change.

O’Toole said it was also critical to involve, educate, encourage and equip farmers, ranchers and foresters to participate in the development of policy and research agendas. Incorporating the views of those who work the land can in order to expand the capacity to deliver multiple co-benefits that improve both food security, nutrition and rural livelihoods, and the quality of soil, water and ecosystem services.

The difficulties imposed by the pandemic over the past 18 months give weight to the understanding that consistent food and fiber production is a key to success for the world in the future. At the same time, cooperation will give stakeholders the willingness to understand the role of success and failure. O’Toole notes that “people support what they help create.” He called on stakeholders to “bring in your community to create the working landscapes of the future.” O’Toole’s presentation was SfL’s seventh formal intervention into the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, and we look forward to COP 26 this coming November in Glasgow, Scotland where a team of SfL farmer envoys will be present to help finalize the first ever climate action plan for global agriculture.


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