Robynne has extensive experience in the agriculture and food sector, working throughout the value chain – from basic inputs to farmers in the field to the grocery store shelf. She works internationally in the sector, including speaking at the United Nations on agriculture and food issues, and representing the International Agri-Food Network at the UN.Throughout her career she has worked with farm organisations like the Prairie Oat Growers Association, the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi and the Himalayan Farmers Association, as well as global groups, to further the voice of agriculture in the food debate. She has also worked with Fortune 500 companies growing worldwide businesses to assist them with issues management and strategy decisions.

Canada’s Gun Deaths Creeping Up

Growing up in Canada, I’ve always known there to be a relatively high rate of gun ownership.  Living in a vast country with a lot of wilderness, a weapon is necessary in Northern communities or on most farms.  Even as close as our farm is to civilisation, it is known to have a bear or two, and certainly coyotes and other wildlife, regularly in the area. For the most part, I’ve always believed those guns weren’t likely to be aimed at people.

What surprised me in this excellent infographic, was how much higher our rate of deaths by guns is than similar countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden.

Sure the US figures are so horrifying it is easy to miss the statistics for the rest of the world, but Canada is on the wrong side of the trajectory for number of guns opened versus number of deaths. It gives one pause, and makes me wonder what steps would be needed to drop those levels down to those of NZ or Scandanavia.

gun homicides per capita

World Bank Should Support Ag Now More Than Ever

It was just as we in agriculture feared – after seeing agriculture rise on the agenda in 2008-09, there are signs that momentum is waning.  An important symbol is the planned exit of the World Bank from funding for the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research commonly known as the CG. The CG is the most important public research body into agriculture and food.

The World Bank has been a funder of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) since 1972 with their $50 million contribution. Recent budget discussions have resulted in a World Bank plan to phase out their support entirely in the coming two years. This is a very critical investment for hunger alleviation.  Global food security will not be achieved quickly or sustained without continued investment and innovation.

So this withdrawal of resources would send a terrible signal. Ariculture is facing challenges: weather extremes and gradual changes in temperature that affect yields, invasive pests and diseases, consumer demands for more product diversity and improved nutritional qualities, and the need for greater productivity to feed the world’s growing population from roughly the same amount of soil and water resources currently being used. World-class research is needed to address these challenges and the CGIAR must continue to generate the public knowledge that will spark global innovation.

In 2009, in L’Aquila, Italy, a Food Security Initiative was pursued by world leaders to prevent a reoccurrence of the crises created by the soaring food prices of 2007-2008 and better prepare for a food-secure future. Initiatives such as the Global Food Crisis Response program by the World Bank, or the bilateral Feed the Future initiative in the United States and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition were launched to significantly increase global investments in food and agriculture, reversing years of stagnant or declining interest in these sectors.  Withdrawing funding would be a terrible message and all countries should be reminding the World Bank of that.

And the next UN Secretary General may be…

My friend Felix Dodds wrote an excellent blog on the race for the next UN Secretary General.  To be selected in 2016, it is a scattered field but I certainly think it is high time there is a female SG.  Undoubtedly regional considerations will be an important factor, but so should be the representation of one half the world’s population.

There is one name Felix omitted from his list that is worth discussion – Angela Merkel of Germany.

Nine Innovative Companies Revolutionizing the Food Industry

Fortune has created a list of 50 companies that are changing the agricultural world. These include companies working with innovative technologies like irrigation systems, or researching ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change using sustainable farming. Here are nine companies who are leaders in their field and are revolutionizing the food industry.

Whole Foods - This grocery store is based in Austin and pushed the focus on healthy, natural and nutritious foods. Because of their success, its competitors began carrying more organic food in order to still compete. Whole foods plans to open five lower-priced 365 stores by 2016, which will refuse to sell overfished seafood, pushes for animal welfare standards, and will require that all products which contain GMOs to be clearly labelled by 2018.

Jain Irrigation Systems – This Company has been selling micro-irrigation systems since 1986 which take the technology used in industrial agriculture and alter it for smaller family owned farms. This helps to increase their crop yields from 50 to 300 percent, and evidently improves the livelihoods of five million small farmers in India.

Unilever – This is the third largest consumer goods company which has helped train 800,000 farmers on how to grow more responsibly. Responsible farming is a huge aspect of the company as more than half of Unilever’s agriculture materials come from sustainable sources.

Danone – Danone is a French company that focuses on helping impoverished youths get the nutrition they need by studying the diets of youths from different countries, and creating food products packed with the nutrients they need. In Brazil, Danone creating a cheese low in sugar and full of vitamins, while Bangladesh’s youth consume 600,000 servings a week of Shokti-Doi, a nutritious yogurt.

SABMiller – This U.K beverage company helps to support the small businesses that carry its brews. In Uganda, it’s created a locally-developed sorghum beer, Eagle, which provides jobs for 20,000 local farmers. While in Latin America, SABMiller provides financial assistance to the 780,000 shops that sell its product. This increased the sales by 12.8 percent since 2013.

Starbucks – Starbucks has revolutionized the way we drink our morning coffee, and to top it off; 99 percent of the millions of pounds of coffee purchased this year will be ethically sourced, while Starbucks has invested $20 million in coffee farms to help benefit forty-thousand coffee farmers. Starbucks has also launched a job initiative to hire 100,000 jobless millennials that has been recently joined by 12 other major companies.

Cargill – Cargill produces more than 500,000 tons of edible oils in India each year. It was in 2008 that the company began making a big difference by fortifying its oils with Vitamin A and D. This has helped fight malnourishment and has sparked competitors to do the same.

Ayala – Prior to Ayala’s beginning in 1997, only 3% of the residents in Manila had access to a sewer system and a quarter of the homes had potable tap water. Today, its “Water for the Poor” program helps to assure that the area’s 1.8 million low-income homes have access to clean water around the clock.

Emerging is proud to have worked with Jain, Unilever, Danone, SABMiller, Cargill through PSM at CFS. For more information on these companies, visit FutureAg’s website.

Youth Declare they are the Future of Food

Last week, the Youth Ag Summit was held in Australia, drawing together more than 100 bright lights from 33 countries who all came together to talk about the future of food and agriculture.  See some of the highlights through their YouTube video:



They have developed a Declaration that will be brought to a special side event during the UN Committee on Food Security on October 13th.  It is an amazing opportunity to have youth describe the path forward to feeding a hungry world sustainably.

Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at the first Youth Ag Summit and I can’t wait to meet the leaders from this session when we are all in Rome for the UN Committee on Food Security.

World Food Prices Drop

The FAO’s Food Price index continued the slide that has been occurring for the last 15 months in July, hitting its lowest level since September 2009. Farmers around the globe will be hit by  lower and lower prices across all sectors.

This last month’s drop has largely been caused by sharp decreases in dairy, pig meat, ovine meat, and vegetable oil prices.

FAO Food Price Index

 

 

Food Waste Prevention Part of the Climate Solution

For years, Emerging and its clients have been talking about the importance of reducing food waste.  One important reason is because food waste prevention, reduction and management will help to increase food availability and also minimize the impact of agriculture on climate change. Making smart decisions on how and what we consume can reduce the amount of waste we produce and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with our consumption. The World Summit Climate and Territories, which took place July 1-2nd in Lyon, France, called attention to the importance of a territorial perspective on climate, as well as indicated the importance of reducing and restricting food loss and waste world-wide.

With growing population projections, one can’t help but think about how we must investment in, reduce waste and develop agriculture. More people require more food, and this summit helped highlight that spreading awareness of the industry needs to grow and change in order to improve existing action plans for a sustainable territorial food system. The future of agriculture requires us to promote sustainable and ecological farming and food systems through the use of non-renewable resources to reduce waste and improve farming futures.

Read the article provided by the FAO for an outline of the success of the summit, and the key touching points.

Oats to Support the Manyinga Project

Samafunda - Robynne and students (2)

The Manyinga Project has been a long-time passion of mine, as the project stands for such an important message: provide essential training in agriculture for children and address basic health and nutritional concerns for students.

Art Enns, President of Prairie Oat Growers Association and a Red River Valley grain farmer, is donating the proceeds from 35 acres of his oat crop to help support the school program, this will fall close to $12,000. The proceeds will go towards supporting two schools in Zambia, where about 430 young Zambians age six to 14 attend.

The project gives young Zambians a chance to break the cycle of poverty not only through conventional education, but also by including training on farming. Agriculture is an essential educational program as 85 percent of people in Zambia farm. Children without parents are missing out on a key component of upbringing in Zambia. If they lack the skills and knowledge they require to run a successful farm and produce food, then they are at risk to falling into a life of poverty.

The Manitoba Co-operator has written a lovely article outlining the support of Art Enns and the importance of the Manyinga Project. For more information on the project, please visit manyinga.org.

If you're interested in supporting the Manyinga Project through a donation, please make your contribution here.

Population Growth Changes the World

If 9.1 billion people weren’t enough, the United Nations released the “World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision” increasing the projections by half a billion people for 2050. Currently set at 7.3 billion people, the world population is projected to reach 8.3 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050, and a high of 11.2 billion in 2100. Half of the world’s population growth is expected to be concentrated in 9 countries from 2015 to 2050. These include, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America (USA), Indonesia and Uganda.

China and India are still the two largest countries in the world – each population with more than 1 billion people. This represents 19% and 18% of the world’s population. With that, the new projected increase in population creates a shift in the current population rankings. India is expected to surpass China by 2022 while Nigeria could surpass the United States by 2050.

Africa currently holds the highest rate of population growth, as it accounts for more than half of the world’s population growth between 2015 and 2050. However, high growth rates bring its own set of challenges. These include difficulties in eradicating poverty and inequality, reducing malnutrition, as well as expanding educational enrolment and health systems. These five themes are critical in achieving the new sustainable development goals.

At a time when it was already predicted that agriculture would need to increase production by 70% to meet these needs, the increase in the projections put daunting pressure on agriculture.  Much of the population growth will come in urban areas and improved diets are a necessity that must be fueled by improved production, less waste, and more investment.  Tackling rural poverty and development needs to be a key part of the agenda.

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