Strong relationships yield better results for farmers in international negotiations

February 21, 2023

Dawn was just beginning to break on the final day of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, last November, when at 6 a.m., the Conference of the Parties reached an agreement that officially highlighted farmers as “stewards of the land” and acknowledged that “policy responses in agriculture are more likely to succeed if they consider the role of farmers as key agents of change.”

The agreement more specifically requested the establishment of the four-year Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security. All Parties and officially recognized observers, including Solutions from the Land, have until March 27 to submit their views on how the joint work should be structured.

An agreement like this is not made lightly or quickly but through years of interactions with various stakeholders at international, United Nations events. Solutions from the Land was pleased to see agriculture-positive language in the agreement and credits this win to more than a decade of proactive farmer-driven and -directed conversations with global UN leaders. SfL initiated these conversations in an environment where few have direct connections to production agriculture. Even today, after much progress has been made to include farmers and agriculture partners in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), only 1.4% of admitted nongovernmental organizations are classified as farmer organizations. SfL also recognizes these conversations are amplified in conjunction with like-minded organizations that work together to advocate for farmer-centered policy.

It takes time to build relationships, but respect and mutual understanding are everything when trying to make a difference, especially on the global stage. Relationships make teamwork and progress possible.

“Our work is not limited to bringing farmers to ‘one-off’ international events,” says Lois Wright Morton, Ph.D., SfL board member and an Ohio farmer. “We orchestrate a consistent, persistent effort over time to build relationships and find partners and strategies that elevate farmer voices in the development of global policies that affect local, national and global food systems, and agricultural and rural livelihoods.” 

SfL is currently working with the UNFCCC Farmers Constituency, which is composed of more than 70 other nongovernmental farmer organizations accredited by the UN, to submit proposals for how the Sharm el-Sheikh joint work should be structured.

“It’s imperative to intervene at each stage of the negotiation process to shape the product as it evolves,” says Ernie Shea, SfL president. “UN negotiation processes are by design slow, and some feel inefficient, but this is the way the countries across the globe operate in a quest to form consensus. In other words, we don’t just show up with one submission or intervention. We need to engage over time, building relationships and lending support as we move forward.”

In January, SfL’s A.G. Kawamura and Ernie Shea participated in a Farmers Constituency meeting where members shared their experiences and assessment of COP27. This month, Lois Wright Morton and Fred Yoder participated in a Farmers Constituency work group that is drafting the Constituency’s view on the Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security.

The farmer group agreed to recommend that the joint work:

  • Not be an additional burden on farmers.
  • Highlight the areas of strong agreement, e.g., from the Constituency’s COP27 position paper and SfL’s guiding principles.
  • Increase trust and respect for what farmers are already doing while recognizing where and how we can do more.
  • Think about the multiple services provided by farmers, such as water management, biodiversity, etc.
  • Reinforce the importance of livestock, the need for accessible and locally/nationally appropriate technology and innovation.
  • Reflect the need for a diversity of solutions that are practical.
  • Identify specific issues/subjects that we want the new work to address/cover to benefit farmers on the ground and our advocacy work nationally and internationally.

These draft planks are being circulated to members of the Farmers Constituency in preparation for submission to the United Nations. Solutions from the Land will also submit its own proposal because the more we—individually and together—promote farmer-focused solutions, the more weight we have in the final decisions.

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