Today, WFO young farmers Sarah Crofoot from Federated Farmers of New Zealand, Brenda Tlhabane from the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA) and Richard Bower from the National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales (NFU UK), joined early-career scientists for a special session of 2020 CLIFF-GRADS Science Collaboration Series.
The meeting, moderated by Luisa Volpe, Head of Policy Development at WFO, focused on how scientists and researchers should collaborate more with farmers to join hands against key challenges such as the effects of a changing climate is This is a key priority of WFO and the event happened a few weeks after the decision of WFO to establish a scientific council to try and bridge this gap, to translate the farmers’ messages into science-based messages.
As young farmers and WFO Gymnasium Alumni, the panellists shared their experiences, thoughts, and considerations on the potential for farmers to work with researchers so to have a stronger impact on the decision making process on climate change and agriculture at the national and global levels.
Sarah Crofoot talked about her experience both as a Gymnasium student and as a focal point for the liaison between GRA and WFO. She underlined the importance of the Gymnasium for creating a network, sharing knowledge and ideas, and increasing understanding of challenges farmers from different countries are facing and how to solve them and to scale up good practices.
Richard Bower introduced his family farming and the origins of its farm in the UK, with his family always paying a lot of attention to sustainability and avoiding food loss and waste on their farm. He has been doing a lot of work within the NFU UK at the national level, that also gave him the chance to be part of the Gymnasium program, that was a great knowledge experience for him. He also focused on climate change issues as increasing extremes make harvesting very difficult. He emphasized the need for farmers and policymakers, scientists, and researchers to work together to face such challenges. On his farm, He is using a lot of manure, organic fertilizers, collaborating with scientists. “If farmers are not in the kitchen, they are probably on the menu, that is why they need to be involved,” he stated. Being part of WFO Gymnasium gave him the chance to create a network and get an understanding of what it is happening in 10 years from now, an insight into the future.
Brenda Tlhabane talked about the work she does on the farm being both crop and livestock farmer. She underlined the challenges young farmers face in Africa, as well as how the barriers increase if you are a black woman farmer. She is on the executive council of AFASA. She spoke on the importance of using the right technologies in agriculture, as well as the importance of soil health and how these topics are having more attention now within African farmers. She reiterated the need to close the gap between farmers and scientists.
The debate also touched upon the issue of GHG emissions caused by agriculture, especially by the livestock sector with an increasing trend to promote plant-based only diets, and this allowed the young farmers to express their views on this too.
Richard Bower underlined the importance of finding a balance.
“I am a meat farmer, so it is a tough question for me. We need to increase the dialogue between scientists and farmers because scientists should really come to me and tell me that meat is not good at all for human health. We should not have a meat only based diet, but I do not think we should eliminate meat completely, we should have a balanced diet,” stated Brenda Tlhabane.
Sarah Crofoot emphasized that it is not about telling people what they can or cannot eat. IN New Zealand, most of the soils cannot grow grass so that a plant-based only market would kick out a vast majority of New Zealand production. “Eliminating livestock is not the solution, but rather the co-existence of livestock and crops if sustainable. Animals play a key role in making our production sustainable,” she said.
Here are the WFO Gymnasium Alumni messages to the science sector on what they need as farmers:
“We have an open door as an industry, especially young farmers. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us, even if conversations could be difficult, we can find a way forward as we are actually part of the solution with scientists. Knock on our doors!” – Richard Bower.
“It’s key that we both farmers and scientists, find a way to work together, in terms of preserving the planet that we have. Researchers need to see the benefits of the farmers’ community as we are on the ground, making practical experiences. We need inclusive ways of collaboration. Come to our farms!”- Brenda Tlhabane.
“Keep working with us! We are reliant on our scientist community in NZ. Farmers are innovative, good at up taking new technologies, but we can’t do it on our own, we need scientists also to test and scale-up practices and technologies” – Sarah Crofoot.