The WFO 2024 Annual Meeting concluded on June 20 with a high-level session centred on the event’s main theme, “Harvesting Tomorrow: Farmers Shaping the Future of Agriculture and Food Production”. 

The session featured expert presentations and insightful discussions on crucial topics such as regenerative agriculture, agro-innovation, sustainable finance, trade regulations, global food security, and climate action. The discussion was moderated by Mr Dimitri Houtart, BBC Rural Affairs Champion.

Regenerative Agriculture – Who’s paying for the cost of transition? 

The term “regenerative agriculture” is gaining popularity, but its definition is unclear. It aims to make food systems more sustainable while maintaining productivity and food security. Some definitions of regenerative farming involve the entire food value chain, combining efforts to fairly redistribute transition costs among all involved parties. If the global food system needs to transition to one that is regenerative and more sustainable, the key question is, “Who will pay for the cost of this transition?” Surely not just the farmers? 

The day’s first panel discussion focused on the central economic issues farmers face when implementing regenerative agricultural practices. Opening the debate was Sareh Forouzesh, Deputy Director of Regen10, a global multi-stakeholder initiative working to support an inclusive, regenerative and equitable food systems transition by developing an innovative outcomes-based framework combining efforts of all the actors from farm to table to truly achieve a circular and healthy economy. 

Mwenda M’Mailutha from the Kenya National Farmers’ Federation (KENAFF), Dainalyn Swaby from the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers (JNRWP), Tony Mahar from the National Farmers’ Federation, and Luca Bianchi from Associazione Giovanni Imprenditori Agricoli (AGIA) – CIA Agricoltori Italiani shared their first-hand solutions and needs from the field, highlighting the synergies required within the value chain. 

The second part of the session involved representatives from the main value-chain actors responding to the farmers’ experiences to co-create a more accountable value chain. Panellists included Liz Kirk, Director of Knowledge & Engagement at the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU); Patrick Gerlich, Country Division Head for Central Mediterranean Countries, Bayer Crop Science; Helena Leurent, Director General, Consumers International; and Darci Vetter, Head of Global Public Policy, PepsiCo. 

Agro-Innovation – Solutions for Challenges of Tomorrow 

At the United Nations level, the discussion on the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on every economic sector is gaining increasing relevance. As the UN Secretary-General highlighted in the recent Annual SDGs Progress Report, revitalizing the implementation of sustainable development goals (SDGs) requires leveraging smart technologies in food systems and promoting circular agriculture. This concept is echoed in the recent formulation of the Pact for the Future, an international soft law instrument advocating for a fundamental transformation of our food systems. 

Recognising farmers’ crucial role in ensuring food and nutrition security, addressing climate change, and preserving biodiversity, the second discussion of the day investigated how Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other new technologies are changing the future of farming, empowering farmers, enhancing their productivity, and ensuring food and nutrition security for everyone.  

Speakers included Theo de Jager, CEO of Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai), who presented the world’s first artificial intelligence platform for family farmers; Francesca Protano, Head of Technology Strategy, Case New Holland; Fokko Wientjes, Chief Operating Officer, Groupe Nutriset – confirmed in person; Juan Lucas Restrepo, Global Director of Partnerships and Advocacy, CGIAR; Tania Strauss, Head of Food and Water at the World Economic Forum (WEF); Dr. Harry Clark, Special Representative for the Global Research Alliance (GRA); Andrea Porro, WFO Secretary General.  

Ana Carolina Zimmerman from the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock Brazil (CNA) closed the session, bringing the young farmers’ perspective into the debate. 

Financing the Transition to More Sustainable Food Systems 

WFO 2024 Annual Meeting panel on finance

Farmers are on the frontline of climate change and consider themselves an integral part of the climate and nature solution. All over the world, they are adapting the way they work to a changing climate, recovering from increasing losses and damages and striving to make their farm operations more economically and environmentally sustainable. However, they cannot do it alone. Despite the centrality of the food systems discourse in the multilateral agenda and the critical importance of food systems pathways to achieving climate and development goals, agrifood systems receive only a small fraction (4.3% in 2019/2020) of global climate finance, with an even smaller fraction (2.4%) going to farmers and a mere 0.8% specifically reaching smallholders. This is not enough. According to some estimates, the transition requires additional financial resources of up to USD 350 billion per year by 2030. The type of finance also matters. 

With the large majority of public climate finance coming as loans (72%), the risk of over-indebtedness increases. And public financial resources per se seem insufficient, with growing calls for private and blended finance to fill the gap. Securing an increase in the amount of finance for agriculture, making flows more predictable and ensuring finance is simply accessible to all farmers, especially women and youth, is crucial to achieving a just transition towards more resilient, equitable and inclusive agrifood systems. It is a precondition to “harvest the future”, creating an environment where young people see agriculture as an attractive career path. 

After a scene-setting introduction by Carlos Watson, Senior Coordinator of Private Sector Partnerships at FAO, the audience heard directly from the farmers about their experiences accessing or trying to access climate finance and the obstacles they found. Betty Chinamunyamu, CEO of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), and Bernard Krüsken, Secretary General of the German Farmers’ Federation (DBV), shared their perspectives. Representatives from multilateral funds, agricultural banks, agri-agencies, and the private sector also discussed the broader trends and opportunities in the financial sector. The speakers included Ben Valk, Head of Strategic Coalitions & Transition Finance at Rabobank; Julian A. Lampietti, Practice Manager of the Agriculture and Food Global Practice at the World Bank; Victoria Crawford, Director of Agriculture and Food at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD); and Andreas Quiring, Managing Director/CEO of Andreas Hermes Akademie. 

Leveraging the Potential for Trade to Improve Food and Nutrition Security in a Sustainable Manner

WFO 2024 Annual Meeting panel on trade

International trade, along with domestic production, is a central factor in achieving healthier, more efficient, resilient, and inclusive food systems. With adequate policy support, trade delivers an opportunity to improve food and nutrition security at all levels equitably and sustainably. A fair, transparent, science-based, and predictable trading environment is critical to sustaining agricultural production, empowering rural communities, and enabling farmers to invest in the future, especially in the context of climate change.

The relationship between food and nutrition security, climate change, and international trade was addressed in the revision of the WFO Policy on International Trade, discussed and adopted at the WFO Annual Meeting in 2023. At the meeting, farmers and farmers’ leaders from around the world committed to working with governments and other key stakeholders to achieve multilateral improvement to the global trading system. 

At the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference held in February 2024 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, a WFO delegation emphasised the implications of trade discussions for farmers worldwide and called on negotiators to respond to both “the global challenges facing the food and agriculture systems and the needs and experiences of farmers at the local level.” 

In the second panel discussion of the afternoon, organized by the WFO and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), representatives from the World Trade Organization (WTO), government officials, the private sector, and trade experts discussed the critical challenges of the global trading system. The focus was to identify improvements needed to ensure that trade can effectively support the transition towards more sustainable food systems, with farmers at the centre. 

The panel included speakers such as Doaa Abdel Motaal, Senior Counsellor, Agriculture & Commodities Division, WTO; Eloisa Frederking, WFO Board Member from Sociedad Rural Argentina (SRA); Christoph Neumann, Executive Vice President for Agricultural Policies at CropLife International; George Rapsomanikis, Senior Economist of Commodity Markets and Development at FAO; Lloyd Day, Deputy Director General, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA); Nick Gardner, Senior Vice President, Sustainability and International Affairs, U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC); and Riccardo Fargione, Coordinator, Divulga Research Institute, Coldiretti.  

Brodie Berrigan, the facilitator of the WFO Working Group on International Trade, set the scene for discussion. 

“From COP28 to COP30: Integrating agriculture and food systems into Climate Action”  

COP 28 in Dubai marked a really important turning point for farming. It was the first-time food and agriculture were high on the official agenda. This resulted in 186 countries signing the UAE Declaration on Agriculture, Food, and Climate. The declaration sets a road map for COP 30 in Brazil, where the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions is due. 

But while it was good to see food and farming given the recognition they deserve at COP, for many farmers, the final declaration feels frustrating and a missed opportunity. The commitments do not quite reflect the ambitions of the conclusions of COP28. Specifically, the document falls short of providing clear guidance, actions, goals, or objectives. 

Farmers have also felt frustrated by their lack of involvement in the process, feeling like they were not invited to the table when the actual negotiations were happening. While having farmers on stage at events is good, it may be a missed opportunity if their experience and solutions are not considered for the climate strategies and actions.  

The final high-level session of the WFO 2024 Annual Meeting explored the role farmers are expected to play in implementing the merged food systems and climate agenda. Key questions included resolving the current negotiation impasse and ensuring that farmers’ voices and needs are adequately represented in future climate policies. 

Panellists included H. E. Ambambassador Carla Barroso Carneiro, Brazil’s Representative to FAO, WFP, and IFAD; Leyla Jabbarli, Deputy Chairperson of the Agro Credit and Development Agency under the Ministry of Agriculture of Azerbaijan; and David Laborde, Director of the Agrifood Economics and Policy Division (ESA) at FAO. 

A remarkable guest closed the day: David Nabarro, Strategic Director of 4SD Foundation. “What becomes clear from today’s discussions is that farmers must never be taken for granted. They are key to the future of us and the people on Earth; food doesn’t come from anyone else. Farmers must be recognised as essential food systems actors,” he stated, urging for increasing and empowering farmers’ role and agency in local, regional, and global decision-making.