SfL Envoy goes to Rome to share farmer perspectives on ag data

November 2, 2023

Kyle Bridgeforth had never considered Rome an agricultural focal point until he found himself there, speaking to leaders from around the world at the 51st Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Most international leaders brought together by the United Nations do not have agriculture backgrounds. However, they are tasked with making decisions that affect agricultural policy at national and global levels. Bridgeforth, a fifth-generation Alabama farmer who grows cotton and other crops, provided these leaders with a boots-on-the-ground perspective of agriculture as Solutions from the Land’s farmer envoy to the meeting, from Sunday, Oct. 22, to Friday, Oct. 27.

Bridgeforth spoke to groups of 25 to 30 people up to 100 people, sharing his general agricultural insight as well as the recommendations on agricultural data, which he helped develop, in SfL’s “Data Policy Guidance: Strengthening Collection, Analysis and Use of Agriculture and Food System Data for SDG Attainment” report.

Bridgeforth shared the recommendations as an “Improved data management for increased sustainability, food security and nutrition” panelist speaker on Tuesday, Oct. 24. The following day, he addressed the entire Committee on Food Security on behalf of the private-sector mechanism, the delegation of which SfL is part. The private-sector mechanism is made up of about 100 delegates, some, but certainly not all, of which are farmers.

“I think the data report came at a good time,” Bridgeforth says. “People were searching for more clarity on recommendations for how to handle ag data. It wasn’t just our side event bringing attention to ag data, there was overall interest throughout the entire conference.”

FAO representatives from various countries, many of which have precision or industrial agriculture projects, were especially interested, he says. They had a lot of technical questions about how data is managed in agriculture, such as what is open source and what is proprietary. Other members of the private sector were also interested.

“If somebody was a data producer in an emerging market and they felt like their data was being taken and used without their knowledge or without their participation, they felt like this would be a good document to show, ‘This is where the industry is moving, and these are the standards,'” Bridgeforth says.

Bridgeforth’s biggest takeaway from the meeting was how different agriculture as an industry is managed on the U.S. stage versus internationally.

“It’s a very different process when decisions have to be made with consensus of so many different governing bodies,” Bridgeforth says. “There are very big markets, entire continents, that have different perspectives on technologies, different ways they want their food processed and handled, different expectations for their citizens. It was eye-opening to see how many different food systems there are in the world.”

Consensus, he says, is good thing overall.

“It’s laborious. It’s time consuming, and it can be frustrating,” he adds. “But I think a large level of consensus makes everyone feels represented.”

Including small shareholder farmers, which FAO says makes up about 70-80% of the world’s farmers.

“Large-scale farmers in the U.S. get a lot of attention because they can quickly adjust acreage and have a big impact economically, but internationally you see a big focus on rights and considerations of small shareholder farmers,” Bridgeforth says. “That’s a part of the U.S. demographic that sometimes goes overlooked but one that I think could drive recruitment into agriculture.”

Overall, Bridgeforth says he felt accepted at the meeting as a farmer.

“People were happy to have some farmer representation,” he says. “I think the messaging we were putting out on data was appreciated.”

But the general feeling in the general sessions was very politically charged, he adds. Sometimes, the political agendas pushed were not necessarily related to agriculture or food. Everyone had their own, differing beliefs of what agriculture should look like. “It’s a place where the majority of people are not farmers. They’re not producers,” Bridgeforth says. “Farmer participation in these types of meetings is essential if we want adequate representation. The food and agriculture system is just as nebulous at a global scale as it is in the United States, so it’s really important for farmers share their opinion, to speak to what is happening in a production system, and to ensure our goals are represented along with everyone else’s.”

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