There’s a saying in the agricultural policy world: “If you’re not at the table, you’ll be on the menu.” As active farmers throughout the world know, it’s a daunting task just to stay in business given the pressures from pests and diseases, non-competitive concentrated markets and price instability, climate change and resource scarcity.
Humanity’s agricultural endeavor to reliably and sustainably feed itself is at a crossroads. A century of agricultural steps forward and backward somehow achieved enough productivity to support a near quadrupling of humanity. Clearly food security and nutrition challenges remain, as evidenced by the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on global food systems. The challenge going forward will be whether we can sustainably produce enough calories, nutrient dense or otherwise, to nourish a population projected to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050 without degrading natural ecosystems and harming the environment. That brings us to the Paris Accord and the discussion about climate change and why farmers, along with the U.S. government, need to participate.
When the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Accord were adopted in 2015, there was broad consensus that their realization would signal the advent of a new age for civilization. The SDGs are that exciting — and conceivably doable.
One important observation that came from forward-looking farmer, rancher and forestry leaders, was that you cannot accomplish climate change and other SDG goals if agriculture is doing poorly. Many of the goals, including the call to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact, directly or indirectly involve the collaborative engagement and alignment of agriculture for their success.
As farmers and former secretaries of agriculture, we have been advocating for a new appreciation of agriculture that has, at its core, a clear-eyed focus on the multiple benefits that come from sustainably managed working landscapes. Using innovation, technology and regenerative farming systems, farmers, ranchers and other stewards of the land can and do deliver critically important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water filtration and replenishment, biodiversity enhancement, soil biology and conservation while providing nutrient-dense foods, fiber and renewable energy.
These services and outcomes provide economic value to rural and urban areas and significant employment opportunity throughout the food chain for large populations around the globe. The rebirth of attention around humanity’s oldest and essential occupation has never been more promising or timely!
For this vision to be realized, it must be embraced by nations and decision-makers across the planet. That is why farmers need to be at the climate table, for we are the ones who actually produce many of the outcomes the world is seeking and our insight, experiences and contributions will be key to success. The future of agriculture is being mapped out in multiple U.N .platforms, and we need the support of the U.S. government in these complex negotiations. That’s why we applaud and support President Joe Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Accord.
Successful agriculture sustains civilization. Support and understanding for the solutions that can be delivered from working landscapes need to be front and center during these policy meetings. If we are not at the table to share our experience, and advise about sustainably managing life systems and resources, only a meager serving at the table of life can be guaranteed.
A.G. Kawamura is a fruit and vegetable farmer from Orange County, Calif., former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and co-chair of Solutions from the Land.
Roger Johnson is a farmer from Turtle Lake, N.D., former commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, and past president of the National Farmers Union.
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