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5 Lessons from United Nations Climate Change Conference

Nancy Kavazanjian, farmer from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, joined attendees from all over the world at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, in Paris last December. Kavazanjian, a soy checkoff farmer-leader and chairwoman of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, was able to represent U.S. soybean farmers at the event. It highlighted how farmers, agribusiness, private companies, and policy makers are working together to find new and innovative ways to be more sustainable.

"For my part, I related how U.S. soybean producers have the ability to help lead in this area, that sustainability is a way of life for us and how we already are working with companies, organizations, and our trading partners worldwide to identify and source sustainably produced soybeans," says Kavazanjian.

Here are five takeaways from Kavazanjian’s time at the conference.

1. Commitment to sustainability
“Committing to sustainability initiatives is one of several ways companies such as Pepsico, Unilever, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Mars are working to help alleviate the concerns of consumers who are concerned about agriculture’s impact on the environment and climate,” she says.
 
2. Government policy
“Several companies also believe – and are vocal in advocating for – government policy as the only way to achieve their carbon reduction and sustainability goals,” says Kavazanjian.

However, she doesn’t believe that’s in the best interest of U.S. farmers and ranchers.
 
3. USDA’s Building Blocks Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy
“Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack introduced USDA’s Building Blocks Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Strategy, which aims to reduce net emissions of carbon dioxide equivalents by about 120 million metric tons per year by 2025,” she says.

Vilsack noted that USDA provides incentives for farmers and ranchers to improve soil health, nutrient management, livestock management, and conservation of sensitive lands, she says.
 
4. Companies working directly with farmers
Companies are already working directly with farmers in innovative ways, says Kavazanjian.

“USB’s effort with ADM and Unilever to source sustainable soybeans in Iowa is one great initiative,” she adds. “Pepsico, which has a large potato research facility in my state, is helping tobacco farmers in Virginia transition to chick peas for their Sabra hummus and teaching tobacco farmers in Spain to grow peanuts for a local product there.”

Another example is Kellogg’s work with Caribbean farmers to intercrop grains in tree crops. Mars is working with rice growers both domestically and internationally to reduce water usage.

5. Lack of belief in adoption of sustainable technologies

“General Mills executives don’t believe that 65 year-old farmers (the average age of American farmers) will adjust to new, more sustainable technologies coming our way in U.S. agriculture,” says Kavazanjian. “I challenge that last assertion and intend to work hard in the years I have left before reaching that age to prove him wrong.”

Kavazanjian hopes everyone involved in U.S. farming and ranching do the same. “Working together, we can mobilize our entire agricultural industry to achieve ever more sustainable improvements to feed the world,” says Kavazanjian.

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