On November 17, the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO), in partnership with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the “4 per 1000” initiative, hosted the event “Soils as a climate solution – getting to scale”, as part of the Race to Zero November Dialogues.

The session brought together farmers, political and business leaders, and experts to explore how a multi-stakeholder action plan can scale soil as a climate solution.

Recent technical, policy and financial innovations have brought soil health up in the agenda as a critical solution for addressing climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration on a large scale, while simultaneously strengthening climate resilience in terms of disaster risk reduction, decreased impacts on biodiversity, improved quality of food, and increased farmers income and livelihood.

While WFO President Theo de Jager addressed the opening political remarks, an entire panel was then dedicated to the farmers, moderated by Luisa Volpe, WFO Head of Policy Development, and the panel included Sok Sotha, Farmer and Vice-President of Cambodian Farmers Association – Federation of Agricultural Producers (CFAP) and Board Member for WFO Asian Constituency; Minette Batters, Farmer and President, UK National Farmers Union (UK NFU); Tamisha Lee, President, Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers (JNRWP) and member of WFO Women Committee.

The event also featured the participation of Louise Baker, Managing Director of the Global Mechanism, UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); Deborah Bossio, Lead Soil Scientist, The Nature Conservancy (TNC); Alexandra Brand, Chief Sustainability Officer, Syngenta; Martin Frick, Deputy to the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021; Mohammad Iman Bakarr, Lead Environmental Scientist, Global Environmental Facility (GEF); Paul Luu, Executive Secretary, 4 per 1000 Initiative; Finian Makepeace, Co-Founder & Policy Director, Kiss the Ground; Gonzalo Muñoz, High-Level Climate Champion of Chile; Jeff Seale, Director of Climate Policy, Bayer Crop Science; Katja Seidenschnur, Sustainability Director for Europe, Middle East, North Africa, Nestle.

In WFO we represent farmers of all sizes, some of the largest scale and hi-tech ones and some of the small farmers, and any of them is committed to keeping their soil healthy, as it is the real capital of their farms. Lately, COVID-19 dominated the debate on food systems, and the world learnt that you could live without most of the things but food. Somehow focus has been lacking lately on climate issues. Farmers cannot be compared to other sectors like transports, as our emissions come from a shorter cycle. Still, many farmers organisations committed themselves to zero emissions, such as our member from the UK, NFU UK, and the Danish one, DAFC, to name but few. I want to invite all of you to dream together about the possibility of having a global program for putting those emissions back into the soil and come back to a pre-industrial revolution atmosphere,” said Theo de Jager during the High-Level Opening Dialogue.

“I’m here looking for partners and so are all the farmers,” WFO President stated, calling on all the political and business leaders, and experts attending the event to partner with farmers to increase the already huge potential of agriculture to be part of the solution to climate change through carbon sink for mitigation, sustainable soil management, risk-sensitive agriculture practices, biodiversity preservation.

Furthermore, the event offered a perfect venue to shine a light on THE CLIMAKERS, WFO led multi-stakeholder alliance that regroups farmers, researchers, international organisations, private sector and public sector actors working together to advance the global political dialogue on agriculture and climate change, promoting a farmers driven approach to the Paris Climate Agreement implementation.

Minette Batters, on her side, reminded the audience that climate change is global, and we are all in this together. “This is the time of the farmers; this is the time of agriculture. What we grow on the soil is sustainable. It is about not only sustainable food but also about sustainable living. This is the decade of the farmers, and I hope that COP26 will be this platform for the farmers,” she declared.

Sok Sotha, during his speech, shared what Cambodian farmers are facing when it comes to soil health, but also the several solutions they have been trying to apply, also considering the limitation of the irrigation system. “We need policies to support farmers and ensure farmers have a voice at the policy level and policy-making processes to make sure farmers have access to knowledge in terms of soil management as well as to resources like water. We need to build farmers’ capacity, especially through farmers’ organisations, so to scale up their potential,” Sok Sotha underlined. Furthermore, closing his speech, he reminded that farmers are willing and ready to work together with all stakeholders group to get “net-zero” solutions that are win-win-win for the people, the planet, and the economy.

Tamisha Lee contributed to the discussion with a strong call to action stating “For us to realise this sustainable agricultural sector that is climate-resilient. We must overcome the persistent barriers that hinder our progress towards this goal. We need to change the culture of traditional agricultural techniques which have caused extreme soil degradation to precise nutrition which entails using the science (e.g. soil sample results) to determine what the farmers will use ultimately. Another barrier is the lack of education both from a public perspective (seeing the farmers for more) and the farmers exposing themselves to what is happening globally.
Some of the levers we need to make the changes will stem from the barriers: Education, education and more education and putting in the investment for research and development. Government and private sector need to partner for that work to be done, shared, and published. We must also make scientific services cost-effective to farmers.
For us to win the war on climate change. We must have radical collaboration. But radical collaboration first starts with a will, a will to want change. Then put in a workable framework that will not become a talking shop, but tangible work that can be replicated. Farmers are not targets; we are a part of the solution and must not be left behind!

By the end, all participants agreed on the relevance of working together to drive the transition to a zero-carbon future, and farmers are key actors in this journey. Improving soil benefits not only the climate but also farmers and all society, including the generations to come. Soil health and soil carbon sequestration should be included in the National Determined Contributions, NDCs, that national Governments are called to present and observe to implement the Paris Agreement.