Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

The International Stewardship Symposium Highlights the Importance of More Social Inclusion with Less Environmental Impact

The International Stewardship Symposium was the second event of its kind hosted by the Canadian Fertilizer Institute, drawing delegates from government, NGOs, farming, agri-retail, and all aspects of the crop nutrients sector to Calgary July 14-15, 2015. During the two day event, speakers from across the globe highlighted the fact that the public expects and needs agriculture to produce more with less environmental impact and more social inclusion. Stewardship techniques and new technologies are essential to these goals. Knowledge-sharing will underpin the success of these endeavours and groups must work co-operatively, especially smallholder farmers. Throughout the sector, agriculture must embrace change and act more strongly.

Aspirations expressed by the participants were:

  • Protect Soils
  • Improve livelihoods for smallholders
  • Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Improve Water Quality

In his opening remarks, Chuck Magro, CEO Agrium Inc. observed the importance of both safety and stewardship: “Sustainability must be at the heart of everything we do… It is about the 4R programme.”

The discussion also focused on the extent to which we rely on soils. 95% of our food supply is tied to soil resources on the planet, yet land degradation remains a growing problem. Soil quality is defined by the purpose of the soils. Are they sustaining what they are supposed to? It is also not a finite task, since developing and maintaining healthy soils is a continuous process.

Furthering the point that agriculture has a big job before it, Anette Engelund Friis of CCAFS delivered a pointed statement: “Agriculture cannot be excused from emissions.” It was part of a robust discussion of Climate Smart Agriculture. In it, there were highlights of the new Global Coalition on Climate Smart Agriculture and the need to incentivize farmers to make adaptations to their practices. Due to the sheer number of farmers, it is a very big job and FAO is reaching out with a side event at the COP.

Hope was derived from several sources, including the role that data can play in fine tuning agricultural practices and emissions. Startling figures of the growth of investment in big data and technology applied to agriculture, were a highlight as investment went from USD$200 million in 2012 to USD$2.3 billion in 2014. Ten times growth is amazing. It means everything from better watershed management to technologies that have helped reduce N loss and pesticide use for more sustainable rice production in China.

The technological solutions must also be underpinned with changes that empower farmers, particularly smallholders. Hlami Ngwenya, of GFRAS, highlighted the social aspect of enabling farmers is essential and they must be respected and empowered through local organisations to achieve improvements in soil outcomes and also economic ones. Inequities for women farmers were flagged, as they have lower access to resources and inputs. The role for co-operatives and farmer organizations to facilitate farmers working in groups was emphasized as a key tool to solve access issues.

As Clyde Graham said when summing up, “how far can we go together?” reflecting the need to joint action to address the social, environmental and economic challenges of farming.

Read: Emerging Insights: CFI International Stewardship Symposium Key Messages