Making farmers’ voices heard in the global dialogue on food and nutrition security
Mary Boote, CEO and co-founder of the Global Farmer Network (GFN), works towards making farmers’ voices heard in the global dialogue on food and nutrition security.
IFA: What brought you to the GFN?
M. Boote:: What is now known as the Global Farmer Network was started in Iowa by five Iowa farmers and myself in 2000. The five farmers, original board members of the non-profit organization they began, were concerned that the farmers voice, which continues to hold much credibility with consumers, opinion leaders and influence makers around the world, was not being heard when debate regarding the importance of trade was occurring. That debate was raging in Washington, DC and in many other capitals around the world following the disrupted World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, WA in late 1999. Trade is an economic, national security and food security imperative.
The original mission for the organization remains the same today: To insert the voice of the worlds farmers in the global dialogue regarding food and nutritional security.
Personally, I have a non-straight career path but agriculture policy, farmers and politics have always played some role in what I do. I have a passion to make a difference. Today, my role is focused on identifying and engaging articulate farmers from around the world who share our mission and are passionate about engaging on a personal level as well as be part of something bigger than themselves: the Global Farmer Network.
IFA: What are the Key Priorities of the GFN?
M. Boote: The mission is to insert the farmers voice in the global dialogue regarding food and nutritional security. Unique in its make-up and global approach to food security, the GFN identifies, engages and supports strong farmer leaders from around the world who can work with others to innovate, encourage and lead as full stakeholders in the work that is being done to fill the worlds food and nutritional security gap in a sustainable manner.
But it is broader than that. In the social media/social concern world that we live in, the credibility of the ‘messenger’ has become as important as the message itself. The vision, perspective and voices of the Global Farmer Network members are powerful and offer great credibility as they make the case for trade, access to innovation, education for farmers regarding progressive agronomic practices and the imperative of farmer advocacy – all backed up by their personal experience as they deal with the challenges of growing more food for a growing population, getting food and feed where it is needed, fight poverty and strengthen their communities. The Global Farmer Network works as a communication platform, allowing them to tell their stories.
IFA: What are the biggest challenges for the agriculture sector today? What role do fertilizers play?
M. Boote: Listening to the farmers of the GFN, the most significant issues impacting farmers -regardless of where they live and farm are: Labor; soil health; access to credit and regulatory barriers – impacting everything from trade (getting food and feed where it is needed) to ability to access the technology tools needed to maximize productivity and profitability in a sustainable manner.
Fertilizer access plays an extremely key role for farmers everywhere. In places like India, GFN members tell us that access to simple soil tests that indicate the amount and type of fertilizer needed to maximize productivity is key. In other areas, access to fertilizer itself is key and the ability to financially invest in appropriate fertilizer inputs is important to others. Clearly, access to precision agriculture tools that help farmers accurately and effectively apply what is needed -where it is needed -when it is needed is key to sustainable and healthy crop production. Healthy soil supports healthy plants and ultimately healthy food. Appropriate and necessary crop protection, partnered with sustainable agronomic practices, help us feed the growing population.
IFA: Farmers are on the frontline of a changing world…. How do they envision their future?
M. Boote: It is interesting to me that, during a recent Global Farmer Roundtable program in conjunction with the World Food Prize, Dr. Nicholas Kalaitzanonakes, University of Missouri, facilitated the GF Roundtable and asked that very question: How do you envision the future of agriculture? Without exception, every farmer from the developing world was extremely optimistic and saw a great future in agriculture production. Each of the farmers from the developed world viewed the future of agriculture with pessimism. You would think that the opposite would be true. Understanding that everyone needs to eat – and with a growing global population and rapidly growing global middle class that would demand choice and a better diet for their families – growing enough nutritious food for all should provide a base of optimism
Precision agriculture is one key approach. For example, sensors can help regulate and reduce water use in drought areas. Similarly, for fertilizers, precision ag will allow us to give plants only what they need through as little as one or two applications. Today, companies are creating plants that are better adapted to drought and insects. By using these better adapted crops farmers can help mitigate climate change.
When asked to expound on their answers, those from the developed world talked about encroaching regulatory barriers, politics and consumer concerns regarding food safety and nutrition as key elements of their view. What all could agree to is the importance of the farmers’ voice in the world – putting a face on the people who grow your food. Telling their stories. Making those stories available through mediums where the world is getting their information and always being open to answer questions, inviting others to visit their farmers and sharing their perspective is – and will always be key – to feeding the world nutritiously. It is possible! The farmers of this world are up to the challenge. The Global Farmer Network is engaged in helping them tell their stories.
About M. Boote:
Mary Boote serves as Chief Executive Officer of the Global Farmer Network. Raised on a Northwest Iowa dairy, pork, corn and soybean family farm, she had the privilege of serving as an agriculture adviser to Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad from 1997-1999. Named as one of the Worldview 100: Global Industry’s top 100 Visionaries and Leaders in Biotechnology by Scientific American Worldview in 2015, Mary has had the opportunity to travel internationally on several agriculture leadership missions that focused on issues as varied as instruction on strategic planning and personal representation for privatized agriculturalists in newly independent countries to learning more about smallholder maize projects to observing the trade negotiation process at the World Trade Organization.