Farmers, scientists and representatives from the private sector at the Climate Dialogues 2020 to raise awareness on farmers-driven initiatives for soils health, enhancing mitigation and adaptation to climate change

Today, December 1, the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) hosted the special event “Soils Health Matters! Boosting Farmers – Driven Solutions to Soils Health” as part of the Climate Dialogues 2020 (23 November – 4 December), organized by UNFCCC to make sure that the action on climate change doesn’t stop with the postponement of COP26 to next year.

Bringing together farmers, scientists and representatives from the private sector, the session aimed to put under the spotlight farmers-driven initiatives for soils health, enhancing mitigation and adaptation to climate change and how farmers’ solutions can be scaled up to boost further the agriculture’s potential as a carbon sink and strengthen the climate-resilience of farming.

Moderated by Tobias Gras, Senior Policy Advisor, Danish Agriculture and Food Council (DAFC), the event featured the participation as speakers of WFO President Theo De Jager; James Blignaut, member of WFO Scientific Council; Hans Roust Thysen, Head of Climate at SEGES, Knowledge centre of Danish Agriculture and Food Council (DAFC); Paolo Di Stefano, Head of European and International Affairs, Coldiretti; Patrick Heffer, Interim Director General, International Fertilizers Association (IFA); Peter Button, Vice-Secretary General, UPOV; Meena Pokhrel, Deputy General Manager, Nepal Agricultural Cooperative Central Federation Ltd (NACCFL).

Whether we farm with grains, vegetable, livestock, at the bottom, the foundation of agriculture is soil. There is nothing more important for farmers than investing in the soils. I have been involved in this discussion for many years, and for the first years, we struggled to get agriculture included in the climate debate, even when the Paris agreement was discussed. If we ask what this nexus within the soil and climate change, sustainability, etc. is…healthy soil is a living resource. For many years, the climate debate was planned apart from real life where farmers have their fingers in the soil. This led to the launch of the Climakers to reach out to farmers and ask them “What can you do? What will it take to get it done?”. It is about leaving our farms in better conditions for the future generation. It is only us that can store the carbon from the atmosphere and get it down to the soil where it belongs. The World Economic Forum reached out to us, asking if it is possible to sequestrate 3 billion (?) tons of carbon in the soils you farm on. This can be done if the farmers of the world are all in, and we are looking now for partners to support us in this. We know as farmers that if our solutions are not based in science, they will not last, and that is why we involved the scientists in this discussion too.” With these words, Theo de Jager welcomed the participants during his opening remarks.

James Blignaut called on scientists to work together with farmers to boost their solutions for soil health: “Soil is one of the least described in the scientific literature. We need to work with our farmers for improving the quality of our soils. We have also to realise that much of the degradation caused to soils is caused by agriculture. This can be reversed if we support our farmers. Agriculture has both a huge responsibility but also a huge potential to restore soils. There are so many people whose livelihoods are based on agriculture. What comes from the soils need to go back to the soils (nutrients, water, carbon).”

Hans Roust Thysen presented a new project by DAFC’s research organisation, SEGES, developing a device that can calculate how much each farm impacts the climate, comparing a farm’s climate footprint with that of other farms and then providing various options for reducing the climate footprint. “Once we have developed the tool, the agricultural sector will be able to take a more targeted approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Paolo Di Stefano focused on some actions promoted by Coldiretti to promote sustainable production and consumption patterns to preserve soils and natural resources. “In Italy, we estimate to have lost 28% of cultivated land with consequent economic losses as well as other collateral damages (climate change, people’s livelihoods). We believe that is very important to develop an integrated supply chain also involving other sectors like technologies companies (i.e. recycling) that work with farmers, for example, on circularity so to avoid soil degradation etc.,” he underlined.

Focusing on how new plant varieties can boost farmers – driven solutions for soil health, Peter Button highlighted: “It is important to understand that variety and resistance are critical, and that is why plant breeding is essential. Using pest-resistant plant varieties means fewer pesticides into the soils. This also helps to preserve the soils and increase its potential for carbon sequestration, and we are ready to support farmers”.

Patrick Heffer gave an insight on the “4Rs Nutrient Stewardship” and how IFA is supporting farmers to sustainably farm and maintain soil health: “IFA is very committed to supporting farmers driven solutions for soil health. That is why we are shifting to fertilizers for crop yields that consider human nutrition and health, climate change etc. When it comes to soil health, it is it about plant nutrients but also the biological activity of the soils. The fertilizers sector offers many solutions, including boosting biomass production, using soils as a carbon sink. Farmers are at the centre of our decision process, and as an industry, we want to help the farmers get the right information and make the right decision.”

Meena Pokhrel focused on NACCFL’ experience in supporting farmers in their effort to farm sustainably and maintain soil health: “We campaign for the use of local pesticides, and we promote organic farming and agroforestry. Soil is degrading day by day due to the use of chemical fertilizers, and we are doing our best to promote climate-smart agriculture and organic fertilizers.”

By the end of the discussion, all participants agreed on the multiple co-benefits in investing in soil health and ensuring that farmers can invest in soil health requires that all stakeholder groups work together and play their part to get solutions that are win-win for the people, the planet, and the economy.

“Farmers are very much action-oriented. They are very sensitive to nature, biodiversity, climate change, and they always care about what’s next. What you cannot measure, you cannot manage. Today it is possible to pay for ecosystem services if farmers could add carbon sequestration as a product. When it comes to the climate-smart agricultural system, farmers do what makes business sense to them because farming is a business. Our time has come,” Theo de Jager stated during his closing remarks.