Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

Global Campaigning on Global Goals: North American Tea Conference

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak at the North American Tea Conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Global Campaigning on Global Goals: At a time when tea is benefitting from social and health trends, it is timely to make sure your promise lives up to modern expectations. The Global Goals agreed by the United Nations, known at the Sustainable Development Goals, apply to all countries–developed and developing–and provide the basis for social license to operate. The Sustainable Development Goals are the key lines currently shaping the global development agenda. As such, they are responsible for both directing and informing internationally significant ongoing trends and perspectives with regards to socio-economic and ethical issues, the environment, and human health. They have been agreed upon by the United Nations, and apply to all countries, developed and developing alike. Aligning values and practices with the 2030 Agenda is therefore crucial for any business seeking to make a positive contribution to the well being of the planet, and the people who inhabit it. This is doubly important in sectors comprising world spanning networks of trade, information, and investment, such as the tea industry. The vast and internationally interconnected nature of their supply chains creates enormous potential for progressive policies to generate exceptional achievements in combating poverty and myriad forms of deprivation.

There are many Goals that are particularly relevant to the tea sector, including:

  • Goal 1 “no poverty”. The tea community has an important role to play in ensuring that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources and access to basic services. They can do this by empowering youth and smallholder farmers, and ensuring that wages and working conditions for all of those implicated in their supply chains provide a standard of living above global poverty thresholds.
  • Goal 2 “zero hunger”. In an increasingly hungry world, improving the sustainability of supply chains, investing in agronomics, and diverting surplus that would otherwise end up as food waste to food banks can make a big difference.
  • Goal 5 “gender equality”. Tea companies must put in place gender inclusion programs, and guarantee that women in their supply chains benefit from security, social protection services, and the possibility of maternity leave.
  • Goal 6 “clean water and sanitation”. Businesses must seek to make their water use as efficient as possible, and crack down on wastage.
  • Goal 8 “decent work and economic growth”. This will only be achievable through scaling-up sustainable supply chains, including processing and packaging activities, and ensuring that appropriate labor standards are enforced throughout.
  • Goal 12 “responsible production and consumption”. This will entail businesses cutting down on food loss and waste at every stage of their supply chains, and investigating the life cycle of the packaging they employ, to make them as environmentally sustainable as possible.
  • Goal 13 “climate action”. Mitigating the impacts of climate change is a moral imperative, meaning that tea industry leaders must explore practices such as carbon off-setting and climate-smart agriculture, to attempt to reduce as much as possible their greenhouse gas footprints.
  • Goal 14 “life below water”. In addition to efficiently managing trade-offs in water demand between agricultural and urban users, companies must also seek to minimize, and eventually eliminate their contributions to marine pollution
  • Goal 15 “life on land”. Around 1.6 billion people currently depend on forests for their livelihoods. More sustainable forestry practices must be a key component of tea industry operations going forward, given that the tea drying process can use as much as the output of one hectare of timber to dry the output of three hectares of tea, and that tea plantations are often located in or around biodiversity hotspots.
  • Goal 17 “partnerships for the goals”. Finally, active engagement with the Goals and those seeking to fulfill them will be vital to any business seeking to make a difference. This will require a pro-active approach to monitoring and reporting on relevant economic, social, and governance indicators related to their activities and supply chains.

Each of these goals presents wonderful opportunities for the tea industry to prove themselves leaders in ongoing global efforts to build a brighter and more sustainable future.

Robynne Anderson is awarded the 2018 Women in Agribusiness Demeter Award of Excellence

I am honored to say that, along with two other exceptional women, I have been chosen to receive the 2018 WIA Demeter Award of Excellence. The award recognizes those who have achieved excellence in their field or demonstrated an extraordinary contribution to the agribusiness industry.

“Nominated as a “visionary leader and facilitator of change… a leading international expert on agriculture and food policies, and a trusted, collaborative partner for our Canadian industry,” Robynne Anderson’s roots in ag go back to growing up on a seed farm in Manitoba. Anderson went on to found and lead two successful agribusinesses: Issues Ink, an agricultural publishing company, and Emerging Ag, an international consulting firm that provides communications services to ag, food and health clients. 

Anderson’s contributions to agriculture are diverse. Internationally, Anderson is the founder of Farming First, a coalition for global ag advocacy; she also helped build the International Agri-Food Network; and has worked closely with the UN to establish the group’s 2016 International Year of Pulses, and Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Agricultural Investment. She has worked extensively to increase the attention on the role of women farmers, and support land tenure rights for women in places where those rights don’t exist.”

Learn more about the award and its recipients here.

Balancing our Approach to Agriculture: The Global Livestock Advocacy for Development

I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the Global Livestock Advocacy for Development (GLAD) project. GLAD is a two-year project working to raise interest in livestock-related research for development. 

GLAD distils and presents evidence on sustainable livestock and its development impacts. Since the project was launched in 2016, progress has been exciting. Recently, key livestock actors convened at several high level international events and engaged stakeholders in livestock advocacy communications. This engagement led to the inclusion of livestock in key global policy discussions relating to food security and sustainable development. 

This project has highlighted why we need to rebalance our approach to agriculture and value all its components from crops, to livestock, to horticulture, to agro-forestry, to fisheries.

Read “Enhancing global livestock advocacy for sustainable development” on the ILRI news site.

Learn more about GLAD:  


Tackling Childhood Growth Failure with Pulses

Pulses can be a major player in the fight against one of the most urgent global food challenges: malnutrition. A recent clinical study in Malawi has found that complementary feeding with cowpeas reduces stunting in children and improves overall gut health.

In African children, stunting usually occurs between 6 to 15 months, when complementary foods are first introduced. When cowpeas were added to the complementary feeding of Malawian infants aged between 6 and 12 months, stunting significantly reduced in height by age scores. For children between 12 and 36 months, the addition of navy beans to their diets led to an improvement in gut health and reduced inflammation. With global trends showing a sobering increase in world hunger and malnutrition, this is an exciting development!

Despite increased focus on issues of hunger and malnutrition, trends show that we are still moving backwards in our fight against these challenges. Recent research has found that high levels of Child Growth Failure such as wasting and stunting continue to persist in Africa. In 2016, an estimated 36.6% of children under five were stunted, 8.6% wasted and 19.5% underweight in Sub-Saharan Africa. Childhood Growth Failure (CGF) was the second leading risk factor for child mortality and accounted for more than 23% of deaths of children under five. Africa is not expected to meet the Target to end malnutrition, specifically wasting and stunting, by 2030.

To tackle the issue of stunting in children, an affordable and accessible solution like this one is critical. The Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab, supporters of this research, “believe that grain legume supplements in diets could be game changers for addressing stunting and gut health in undernourished young children in developing countries”, and we commend their good work towards this goal. These positive research outcomes an excellent reminder of why Burkina Faso is leading the charge for a World Pulse Day to be declared.

Since the UN declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, we have seen an increase in the awareness and consumption of pulses around the globe. Pulses are a nutrient powerhouse packed with protein, nutrients and amino acids; the results of this clinical study prove that they can be an impactful weapon in tackling the scourge of stunting in children, thus boosting food and nutrition security in the developing world.

Follow me for more reflections on agriculture, in Canada and across the world, on Twitter at @Robynne_A



Respect: Advancing Women in Agriculture

When you think about agriculture and food, women are involved in every aspect.  We represent most of the world’s smallholder farmers, livestock keepers, grocery buyers, and household cooks. So if women are a vast part of every aspect of producing and serving our food, why is there a dearth of them in leadership in agriculture?

Last week, I had the honour of discussing that with 30 great women working in agriculture in Singapore. @WOMAGasia regularly brings together women and men to talk about new issues in agriculture.  This is important because building networks, getting training, and the need for gender equity is a conversation that needs to happen with women and men together.

But on this night, they took the time to have a special, frank conversation about what are the challenges we face in getting women into leadership roles in agriculture. It was cathartic and empowering as we talked about how to get mentors, the challenges of imposter syndrome, and how to deal with work-life balance.  There was great advice from around the table and collectively our insights helped us all think of ways to navigate a male-dominated world.

From time to time it was even a bit depressing as we faced the realities that all of us (me included) had been put in socially inappropriate situations and some #MeToo moments. However, strength comes from numbers and 30 women discussing how to manage these situations certainly left us all with new tools and a wonderful sense of solidarity. As more of us come into leadership roles, I hope we will find the incidence of these problems begin to drop away. In addition, I’ve always found that a great aspect of men in agriculture is that they tend to have grown up on farms and have a strong sense of community and family. They don’t want their daughters in those situations, and they can be an important force for social adjustment in agriculture.

One male farmer was smart enough to raise that we need a daycare service at major farm shows like FarmTech to make it easier for women to attend the meetings. That’s a great idea. As a matter of fact, it was a group of men at Duxton Asset Management who had the idea to host this event in Singapore and sponsored it at Straits Wine Company.

We also need to think about how to proactively engage women in industry conferences, advance them to boards, and recognize their accomplishments. I remain deeply touched by being inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, but so conscious that there are only 8 women among 210 men.  There is no way this gap reflects the efforts of my mother, my grandmothers, and my great-grandmothers in rural Canada and all the other women who have been the backbone of agriculture.  The fault of this does not lie at the door of men. We, as a society, need to be thinking about recognizing women more often – and we women should be at the front lines of thinking of great female talent to propose. Because, together we are stronger.

Women throughout agriculture can do more to band together and help each other. I hope a new “Old girls’ network” will come to co-exist with the “Old boys’ network” that will be fully diverse and inclusive. I hope that soon we’ll just be people equitably sharing leadership roles. We are half the world’s population and one of these days I hope we will #FilltheGap to become half of agricultural leadership.

Happy International Women’s Day!