The Climakers: an effective multi-stakeholder alliance for the sustainability of food systems in the framework of a changing climate

Today, November 24, the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) hosted the special session “The Climakers – A Farmers Driven Climate Change Agenda Towards the Sustainability of Food Systems” as part of ” Bold Actions For Food as a Force for Good”, the first pre-UN Food Systems Summit event.

Bringing together the members of the Climakers Alliance, farmers and other relevant stakeholders of the agricultural sector, the session aimed to raise awareness about the contribution of farmers to the sustainability of food systems showcasing farmers driven solutions to climate change and how a “Farmers Driven Approach” can ensure the UN Food Systems Summit of next year become a turning point to the shift towards sustainable food systems.

Moderated by Michael Hoevel, Coordinator of Farming First, the event was composed of two sessions. The first part focused on how the solutions that farmers are implementing to fight climate change can help the shift towards sustainable food systems.

Participants in the panel were: Theo De Jager, President, World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO); Jannes Maes, President, European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA); Errington Thompson, President, Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI); Stephen Muchiri, Executive Director, Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF); Majola Mabuza, Policy Officer, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU).

They shared their experience within The Climakers, telling the audience the added value of being part of a Farmers Driven Climate Change Agenda.

The second panel featured the perspective of private sector entities, research and academia, and civil society on working with farmers to boost farmers driven solutions to climate change, with particular attention on the added value of a multi-stakeholder partnership as The Climakers to ensure an effective food systems transformation.

Speakers joining the debate during this second session were Giulia Di Tommaso, President and CEO, CropLife International; Ming-Hong Yen, Director of Technical Cooperation Department, International Cooperation and Development Fund of Taiwan (Taiwan ICDF); Deissy Martínez Barón, Regional Programme Leader for Latin America, CCAFS; Peer Ederer, Professor and Director, Global Food and Agribusiness Network (GFAN), and WFO Scientific Council Member.

All the attendees provided valuable contributions and suggestions, thus embracing the very spirit of the Climakers, a shared alliance for climate change, characterised by an authentic bottom-up approach.

Theo de Jager set the scene telling why and how The Climakers Alliance was created: “I’ve been involved in climate debates since 2011, and ever since there is still little inclusion of farmers in international decision-making processes. Agriculture was not even mentioned in the Kyoto Protocol – I remember myself, Ishmael Sunga* and colleagues pushing for this inclusion. COVID-19 brought about a great change in the way people think of agriculture. Many people during lockdown started to grow their things, and that is good as to understand what it means to be a farmer. There is a greater appreciation for food in our health systems as well. But there was a time a few years ago where farmers where asked questions we didn’t have answers for. So WFO decided to reach out to every other farmers’ organisation we could find on this planet, and all other stakeholders in the agricultural sector, asking “What do you think we can do better? How can we promote biodiversity? How can we make sure that mother earth doesn’t get hurt while we ensure the profitability of our activity?” and so the Climakers alliance was created. By doing this, we believe we will get to the answers we need, and farmers will be the owners of the solution as they are at the centre of the solution. Also, WFO equipped itself with a Scientific Council, bringing together almost 20 scientists across different domains to make sure that our solutions are science-based and then sustainable”.

Jannes Maes emphasized the importance of a common framework to have a real impact in the global decision-making process: “Every single farmer has a responsibility, and we need a framework so that everyone can do their part. The reality in one country is very different from what happens in other countries, but I met many farmers and young farmers, and we share the same dreams and ambitions. A project like The Climakers has a crucial role to play, that is to showcase that we are not passive in this game, we have our ambitions, and we can play our part as long as we also pay attention to the financial part.

In the farming sector, we might have different ideas on how to move forward, but we an undeniable vital principle that is leaving no one behind, past and future generations”.

Errington Thompson shared the key outcomes of the first regional consultation held in the Caribbean in August 2019 within the Climakers data gathering campaign, putting the focus on the importance of considering regional peculiarities. Giving voice to the needs of the farmers from that region, he reminded “Climate change made it clear that we can no longer depend on imports. Many ministers of agriculture came to the point we do something now. COVID-19 has shown us that we MUST do something. Many people decided to set up gardens during the lockdown, so now they know the importance of producing fresh food and what it takes to do that”.

Stephen Muchiri highlighted: Farmers are the centre of any food systems transformation. Farmers must be at the centre of the climate change agenda, provide oversights on the programs and projects that are being implemented on climate change. Farmers deserve to be seen as PROFESSIONALS and INVESTORS. As a regional farmers’ organisation, the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation partner with other fellow organisation, i.e. SACAU, on many things, we have been attending the COPs, and we have been able to compile a compendium. There are projects to try to scale up such practices.

Majola Mabuza underlined the added value of being part of a Farmers Driven Climate Change Agenda: SACAU was a founding member of The Climakers, and one thing we have experienced and enjoyed is that now farmers and their organisations across the globe have a strategical position in the global political dialogue on agriculture and climate change. There was no opportunity for farmers to provide their contribution before, while through The Climakers, we can now demonstrate our concerns and the role we can play and where we want to see the change. We cannot just bring change alone, and The Climakers provide a learning platform where we can share our own experience as well as learn from others’ experiences. In terms of what we have been implementing within our network, SACAU decided late last year to bring at the country level our experience within The Climakers. Understanding that our farmers don’t know that they can contribute to the NDCs, we decided to get farmers to know how the process works and what they can do. So, we are partnering with other organisations, and we are pushing for farmers to be part not only of the NDCs but of a longer-term strategy.

Giulia di Tommaso highlighted the holistic approach of the Climakers initiative, especially in building a bridge along the entire value chain, for all parties to be able to contribute to achieving sustainability and food security jointly: “The themes highlighted today are very linked with CropLife priorities and our work towards sustainability and food systems transformation. Our vision and goals must include climate change, development of the communities so to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At the core of the conversation, we can share the very positive experience of working with farmers; we can talk from CropLife perspectives on how agriculture should be at the centre of the discussion on how to achieve sustainability and food security. We see The Climakers has achieved in two years much more than what we believe and we want to reiterate our support and willingness to collaborate along the entire chain and show with concrete actions that we can really have this inclusive and holistic approach to move from silos to a systemic approach.

Ming-Hong Yen focused on Taiwan ICDF experience in working with farmers to boost their solutions to climate change for the sustainability of food systems: “We need to support farmers to have stronger resilience skills. It is crucial to enhance agriculture productivity to feed the growing population. For example, we work with the government of Nicaragua to support farmers, making them planting specific seeds that have positive ecological impacts as well as more production being more resilient. Resilience can be considered as a form of human capital, given the increasing number of climate change-induced disasters. Farmers need to learn not only how to recover but also how to prevent such events and their consequences”.

As a representative of the research world, Deissy Martínez Barón reiterated the importance of closing the gap between farmers and science: “Our main goal is to get knowledge and generate information from the farmers. This is our role in The Climakers, we support the alliance with our scientific support, assessing farmers’ practices according to the climate-smart agriculture (CSA) approach. Our science wants to contribute to shifting towards sustainable food systems and to achieve that it’s needed: scientists and farmers to work together; diverse and inclusive partnerships; tailored but scalable solutions. At CCAFS we work with farmers, but also other actors (academia, PS, NGOs) to 1 – redirect practices towards achieving SDGs; 2- decreasing negative effects of climate change;  3- reduce emissions and food loss and waste 4 – align policy, finance and innovation, and support and promote sustainable finance.”

Peer Ederer echoed “We need to reintegrate farmers as a driver of change into the discussion; this is a big step forward in the debate of food systems transformations. Farming is risk management; every decision you take on the farm is managing risk, and digitalisation gives every farmer in the world data, resources, solutions. Climate change is a threat, and farming is the solution. We have keys in farming to manage the water cycles, carbon cycles, to understand how they operate; farming for the next 2-3 decades will be the solution. Farming is not part of the problem or the solution; it is the solution. Farmers of the world are ready to do that and scientists are ready too.”

By the end of the discussion, all participants agreed on the relevance of collaborating and breaking silos to drive the transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food systems, giving voice to the farmers who have a key role to play to drive this change, based on their practical experience on the field.

*Ishmael Sunga, Chief Executive Officer, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU)