On Thursday, 15 December, WFO Board member for the North American Constituency and President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Ms Mary Robinson, addressed the seminar on the sustainability of the grains value chain organised by the International Grains Council (IGC). 

Moderated by Mr Arnaud Petit, IGC Executive Director, the webinar aimed to discuss sustainability strategies in a holistic approach while highlighting how the inputs industry and farmers understand sustainable farming.  

It also focused on possible synergies between farmers and the inputs industry to scale up the projects locally and globally. 

Bringing the global farmers’ perspective into the debate, Ms Robinson started her speech by stating that all farmers of the world, have a clear and common idea of how a sustainable agricultural sector should look like: “sustainability for the farmers means three things: sustainable for the planet, sustainable for society and viable for us.” 

She then underlined that without Agriculture and farmers ensuring the quantity, quality and diversity of food while driving innovation and sustainability worldwide, there can be no food security at all. 

The WFO Board Member also remarked that the farming sector is affected by inequality and an excessive concentration of power in the hands of few economic actors; for a de-concentration of power along the food chain from producers to consumers that enable to promote equity and to keep food systems genuinely sustainable, is mandatory redistribution of risks and benefits throughout the value chain.
Farmers are one of the actors of food chains, where they are often squeezed by other players, losing bargaining power over large suppliers and buyers and their freedom to choose what to grow, how to grow it, and for whom. 

“As Farmers, we consider it essential to change the way we refer to food: not as a commodity but as a valuable product” – WFO Board Member, Mary Robinson 

WFO Board member Mary Robinson at IGC seminar 2022“It is not just a matter of increasing the capacity of production, enabling farmers to face all the challenges with which are confronted every day (climate change, urbanization, loss of agricultural soils) but to produce more sustainably and to waste less.– clarified Ms Mary Robinson“Moreover, as Farmers, we consider it essential to change the way we refer to food: not as a commodity but as a valuable product. Stronger relationships can be built between food production and consumption and among value chain actors, developing different networks of distribution and exchange.” 

She also underlined the importance of building on the multidimensional nature of farmers’ role in the whole food value chain and promoting well-functioning business models that are able to link farmers, businesses, retailers and consumers, and which can therefore be a true catalyser for a food system approach which is able to involve all the actors.  

Value chain contracts are an example of the above-mentioned ‘new business models’ that can put farmers at the same level of the industry, enhancing at the same time their bargaining power, and promoting fair trading practices and prices.  

Ms Robinson also remarked on the urge of strengthening local, domestic, national, and regional markets, as most food producers are unable to significantly play a role in these markets: “it is of utmost importance to recognize Farmers’ activities as a business and to ensure a fair return for the vital role we play.” 

The sustainability of farming is necessarily linked to better cooperation between the actors of the chain. The World Farmers’ Organisation calls on policymakers to build on different voluntary initiatives that are raising to achieve the objective of enhancing the competitiveness of farmers but also to repurpose subsidies as one of the solutions to cover the costs of transition and enhancement of sustainable production systems, reduce food loss and waste, and ensure the more effective, equitable, and just management of natural resources. There is also a need to repurpose commercial financing that still enables nature-negative value chain practices, as well as nutrition-negative habits. 

Improving farmers’ access to finance would also support a transition to innovating production and harvest methods that would allow the sector to increase sustainability levels and their resilience to future shocks.  

“It is vital to promote organizations, associations, and cooperatives of Farmers. This is especially important for small-scale Food Producers and other groups who are frequently marginalized from current resource allocation and globalized food trade systems” – WFO Board member, Mary Robinson 

WFO Board member, Mary Robinson continued by highlighting that “it is vital to promote organizations, associations, and cooperatives of Farmers”.
This is especially important for small-scale Food Producers in developing countries and other groups who are frequently marginalized from current resource allocation and globalized food trade systems.
Involving Farmers’ Organisations in any policy-making process which has an impact on sectors involved in food production and harvest, is key to understanding farmers’ specific needs and constraints in each region of the world. 

Moreover, Farmers’ organizations and cooperatives provide economic services at affordable terms to their members.
They help them to improve their livelihoods, offer easier access to markets and defend their rights and needs during resource allocation negotiations.
They also distribute key information, technology, training, and extension services and are crucial to build partnerships with other stakeholders, operate as intermediaries to represent the farmers’ interests and raise awareness on the key role of Producers in the policy-making processes at all levels, worldwide. 

Closing her speech, Ms Mary Robinson claimed that “we, farmers of the world, want to be at the centre of decision-making policies and programmes as we can contribute our expertise, our views and most importantly our solutions. If we really want to transition to a completely sustainable agriculture sector, we must act systemically, involving all the actors of the sector, each sharing our responsibility and contribution”.