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.

Young Innovators in Agribusiness Competition

The USAID-supported East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, Syngenta and the Inter Region Economic Network (IREN), launched the second edition of the agribusiness competition dubbed “Young Innovators in Agribusiness Competition.”

This launch follows last year’s successful Agribusiness competition, which attracted over 800 participants from sub-Saharan Africa. Ten of the 35 youth finalists have gone on to win other prizes in the energy and agribusiness sectors, while ten other have expanded and retained their agro-related enterprises and 15 are employed or pursuing higher education.

This year’s competition is open to East African youth aged 18-35 years, who reside in the East African Community, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Mauritius or Madagascar, and have a start-up or small and medium sized enterprise (SME) involved in the agricultural value chain. The deadline for SMEs has been extended to October 30, 2015

For more information, visit the Young Innovators in Agribusiness website.

FAO Dialogue with the Private Sector Mechanism on Inclusive Finance and Investment Models in Agriculture

Jaine Chisholm Caunt, Chair of the Private Sector Mechanism and Director General of the Grain and Feed Trade Association, and I were featured in an FAO dialogue on inclusive finance and investment models in agriculture at the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome. Watch the video below.

For information regarding the FAO Director-General’s meeting with Private Sector at CFS focusing on Inclusive Finance, visit the International Agri-Food Network (IAFN) news page.

Stats Show Women Still have a Way to Go

For years, the Emerging team has been working to highlight the particularly gaps that face women farmers and the high degree of poverty experienced by rural women. Women and children make up the majority of the population living in poverty and are most affected by transecting, systemic barriers and societal attitudes which preclude them from working their way out of poverty.

The UN’s goals to end poverty, end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture are intrinsically tied with their ability to meet the goal of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. Their infographic on poverty highlights the issue of gender inequality and its relation to poverty. Often, the gender disparities seen today are a result of women’s lack of access to these economic resources. One in three women have no influence over any major purchases for their household. In many developing countries laws and policies restrict women’s access to land, capital and other assets. These restrictions are regularly due to laws that inhibit their economic independence. In the developing nations where data was collected for this study, 28% had laws that did not guarantee the same inheritance rights as men, 52% had laws that give women the same rights but have customs that discriminate against women and only 20% had laws that guarantees the same rights for men and women.

Furthermore, there are less women who have their own income because there is a disparity in access to paid work versus unpaid work. This is not to say that women aren’t working. Women’s contribution to the rural economy is generally undervalued. Women perform a disproportionate amount of care work, work that often goes unrecognized because it is not seen as economically productive. Through efforts to ensure women have access to resources and economic opportunities the UN can eradicate hunger and poverty.

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What's a More Important Sector: Oil or Agriculture?

There is an age old debate on whether the agricultural or oil sector is most important. Being based in Calgary, I am surrounded by the importance of both sectors. My friend, Kim McCornell, wrote me the other day with some interesting facts from a column by Brenda Schoepp in the latest issue of Alberta Farmer Express. I encourage you all to read below:

BOTH are very important --- especially in this part of the world.  But here are some neat facts that you might find of interest about Canada’s agriculture and oil sectors:

  • Agriculture in Canada directly employs more than 305,000 people and the entire agri-food industry employs 2.2 million persons … supplying one in eight Canadians with work.  Oil & gas directly employs 190,000 people and just over 400,000 persons as an industry. While the oil & gas industry is presently laying off workers, the agricultural industry is estimated to be short 74,000 workers by the year 2022.

  • Oil & gas produce 2.9 per cent of GDP while all energy, including electricity, is 7.5 percent of GDP.  Agri-food accounts for 6.7 per cent of GDP – bigger than auto manufacturing

  • The Canadian grocery cart contains 70 per cent of Canadian products grown in Canada.

  • 98 per cent of farms in Canada are family farms supporting the continuation of the rural infrastructure and the protection of rural cultures.  More than 25,000 of these farms are owned and operated by men and women under age 35

  • 40 per cent of agricultural commodities are value-added in Canada in more than 6,000 facilities, and the industry has room for growth (meat processing alone employs 79,000 persons).  A small percentage of oil has further value add within our borders in 15 refineries

  • Agriculture is estimated to contribute 10 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas with 26 percent coming directly from the oil & gas sector.  Changes in farming practices continue to contribute to the reduction of environmental degradation.

Kim noted that both the oil & gas industry and the agri-food industries are important to Alberta and Canada.  The benefits rewarded to Albertans and Canadians from these industries is incomparable.

What’s surprising is that we just completed a provincial election in Alberta, and a federal election, yet the growth of these industries and the many opportunities it offers or the importance our vibrant agri-food industry provides, are rarely mentioned.

As Kim stated, “The journey continues …”

All Pulses Dinner

A simple pulse can make the most extraordinary meal even more extraordinary when it is a multi-course dinner served garden-side by talented hosts. Mr. Ahmad Farooq, Alternate Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN agencies in Rome and the co-chair of the International Steering Committee for the International Year of Pulses (2016) and his skilled wife hosted the members of the steering committee. They were kind enough to include me.

The menu shows the extraordinary diversity of what can be done with pulses – right down to the desserts.  My favorite dish was the Qeema, but everything I sampled was a joy.  We can’t wait to see what Pakistan supplies as the national signature dish for the year of pulses.


The Pope and the SDGs at the UN today!


17 Heads of State, 1 Pope, 17 goals for a new global partnership makes for a lot of security and a lot of media.

Thrill for one farm girl.

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.