“Food and the environment should not be seen as competitors. They are partners. And our destiny as farmers depends on the political realisation of that simple fact. There is only one solution, we need policies and investments into the new world optimisation of agriculture. To aim for the very best policies and data that will enable sustainable food production.” With these words, Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), set the scene of the NFU Conference 2022 (NFU22), taking place in Birmingham from February 22 to 23.
Exploring the theme ‘British farming: a blueprint for the future‘, the event featured keynote speeches from industry leaders and political heavyweights on the future of agriculture.
The President of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO), Theo de Jager, accepting the invitation of NFU, WFO Member since its foundation in 2011, joined the conference to bring into the debate the global perspective on challenges and opportunities for farmers and farming.
WFO President opened his keynote speech by praising NFU’s trailblazing efforts in working towards net-zero by saying: “The NFU has not only taken the lead when it comes to policy development on climate change, but you’ve also opened up new horizons for farmers across the globe when you committed to net zero. I will never forget that day.”
“If policies are not science-based, they are useless.” – WFO President Theo de Jager
He remarked that the most crucial function of any farmers’ organisation is advocacy and influencing policies. “To influence policies, you need to have policies, and that is a luxury because it means you have to have consensus amongst farmers,” President De Jager said.
“No two farmers in the world farm the same; farmers are entrepreneurs; they are decision-makers, they are people who think for themselves. In the process of developing policies, you need to be informed by the environment and especially by science“.
He explained that “If policies are not science-based, they are useless.”
He also spoke about the WFO Scientific Council. Established in 2020 to equip the farmers’ policies with the best scientific advice, it brings together 16 scientists, experts and professors from across the globe: “Let’s consult them in all our policy-making and processes. Let’s make sure our policies are based on proper science. When we talk about food security, food systems, food value chains, we are not only talking about natural sciences. It’s more and more important also to hear the voice of the social scientists, and the economists, and the communication scientists.”
“If farming is not profitable, it is not sustainable” – WFO President Theo de Jager
Addressing the relevant issue of food security, WFO President stressed that there is enough food in the world, and farmers are outproducing. However, close to 900 million people in the world are uncertain if they will eat each day, and Africa is home to many of these.
He went on to say that if farming is not profitable, it is not sustainable because farming is a business, and you need to link up with markets where you can sell your surpluses at a profit.
He pointed out: “Europe must accept that as long as Africa is hungry, you will not sleep. Because nothing stops a hungry man, no fence, no door, no lock, no border and no sea. People will go where they believe they can feed their families.”
He didn’t miss the opportunity to remind that “Covid disrupted markets, to the extent that a lot of food was lost on the farm. But millions of farmers changed how they farmed or what they farmed to adapt to the new circumstances.”
The battle in reversing climate change starts with the soil
Closing his speech, WFO President made a plea for farmers going beyond advocacy. He said he wants farmers to use their networks and look at action-orientated initiatives such as the NFU’s Net-Zero Pledge.
Finally, President De Jager shared with the audience his dream of launching a farmer-to-farmer pledge on soil health before his term ends in June.
“More than 90% of what a farmer can do about climate change is being done in the soil, and the soils go nowhere – it’s yours,” WFO President said. “There’s no more important investment you can make on-farm than on the health of your soil.”
“I will leave this little portion of the planet, of which I am the custodian for a very short time in its existence, in a better condition for the next generation than what I found it in. If enough farmers can do that, we will address most of the challenges we have, and we will really be remembered as the generation of farmers who made that difference.
“I want to challenge you to join such a movement and see if we can heal the planet for ourselves and by ourselves. That is going beyond advocacy.”