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Producers need to be aware of UN Food Systems Summit outcomes

The United Nations held the UN Climate Change Conference in Scotland last week.
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The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, was speaking at the start of UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland last week. Climate change wasn’t on anyone’s radar for COP1.
WESTERN PRODUCER — The United Nations might seem distant from a prairie farm but what happens there can foreshadow where the world is heading, said Robynne Anderson, president of Emerging Ag Inc. and a representative to the UN on farmers’ behalf.

That’s why farmers should pay attention to what happened at the recent UN Food Systems Summit and what comes next, she said during the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s public trust summit.

People think agriculture has to change.

“The narrative has shifted,” she said.

“If you think about the days when people were talking about farm aid and about farmers being on the front line of receiving problems, the narrative has shifted to agriculture is actually driving problems in the world.”

Anderson said representatives from 150 countries, including many heads of state, addressed the summit and spoke to the need for change.

But they also talked about agriculture as a solution through things like regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration.

The importance of a forum like the summit is that conversations there will shape future regulations and national legislation, Anderson said.

She noted that climate change was on no one’s radar when the UN held its first discussions on the subject and now everyone is talking about it. Similarly, food systems are now on the agenda.

“If 150 leaders of the world take the floor and talk about agriculture and food, when they might be talking about world peace, climate change, energy shortfalls, that’s saying something,” Anderson said.

She cited a tweet from the Global Alliance on the Future of Food to sum up what she called the “tough language” being used by some at the summit: ‘This is the time to step away from old ways of working, break form the damaging status quo, build critical mass around a vision of food systems that are renewable, healthy, equitable, resilient, diverse, inclusive and interconnected.’

Anderson said those who work in the food integrity space should be thinking about the key words in a tweet like this and how much integrity Canada’s agriculture and food system has. In particular, she said diversity and inclusion are at the fore of a whole spectrum of global political conversations and the food system won’t be exempt.

She also said the conversation has to swing back to how food can help the planet, not ruin it.

Another emerging issue brewing at the UN is biodiversity and Anderson said Canada has a good story to tell about crop rotation and the role of livestock.

Asked what farmers need to know about the global food situation and the future, Anderson said supply is much tighter than it has been.

“If I were a farmer…definitely thinking about the diversity of your production is going to be really important,” she said.

Farmers should talk about the sustainability of those products, the nutritious benefits and the desire for more biodiversity.

She cautioned farmers around the issue of carbon credits and selling them to other industries, particularly since agriculture is also an emitter.

“All of those credits we’re selling to other people only make our story worse in food,” she said. “You do need to be thinking about your value chain…but also think about whether it’s exacerbating the story.”

She added that while the livestock industry may have been nervous entering the summit there were only two negative comments during the event and they both came from civil society groups rather than countries.

Anderson said those groups don’t have a vote at the UN.

“Is it illegitimate that these actors were involved? No. In the end the outcomes are 231 commitments, which include commitments around sustainability and livestock,” she said.

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