What better way to show the commitment of a group of individuals to a cause than to tell their story with their own pictures and words? Let’s start at the beginning…
“On a sunny Tuesday morning in June, we (members of the GFAR Steering Committee) gathered on an agricultural cooperative on the outskirts of Rome. We walked the farm and discussed livestock, crop systems, consumers, sustainability, value addition, social responsibility, innovation, collaboration and cooperation. While our discussions were directly related to the cooperative, we realized the themes were common for farmers around the world. In particular, we talked about how farmers can access research and use innovations to build economically, socially and environmentally sustainable farming systems. The visit did two things – it reminded us that the farmer must remain central to our work on research and innovation, and it demonstrated the value of cooperation to achieve our goals.” –Will Surman, international private sector representative
Over our three days together, rediscovering these common values – the commitment to put the needs of the farmer first, and the value of real cooperation—reconfirmed how we are truly “transforming the work” of agri-food research and innovation. –Mohammed Ajlouni, regional representative for Middle East North Africa. We “put our heads together, put our minds together to do what no ONE organization can do alone.” –Mark Holderness, GFAR Executive Secretary.
“It was very clear from the beginning of this meeting, on the first day at the cooperative: ‘This is YOUR GFAR.’ All our opinions were sought out, all our perspectives were respected.”
–Sayed Azam Ali, representative of international public research institutions
And put our minds together we did: by the close of the three days of this strategic workshop on the farm and in the meeting room, we had designed 14 proposals for collective actions, each to be taken forward together by at least three partners in GFAR, from 3 or more diverse constituency groups, and with the involvement of at least one farmer organization. With the proposals also came commitments. As the GFAR Steering Committee, representing the almost 500 Partners in GFAR, we pledged to work together to really take forward these actions into practical programmes.
So why head out to the cooperative farm on the first day of a Steering Committee meeting?
Because the best way to learn what collective action means is to learn by doing.
40 years ago, the young people who founded “Agricoltura Nuova”, an agricultural cooperative located in the Decima Malafede Reserve outside Rome, had never actually farmed themselves. Yet, together, they had the vision and the courage to set out earning their livelihoods entirely through agricultural activities. Cultivation, animal husbandry and producing finished products such as cereals, milk, cheese, honey, fruit, meat, eggs and seasonal vegetables, have always been done with a respect for traditional, artisanal practices and with a view to sustainable and ethical development models.
“It’s not easy to bring together so many people with different backgrounds. Our common passion is what enables us to work together.”
–Roberto Aparicio-Martin, GFAR Donor Support Group
In short, these city-youth-turned-farmers had to learn by doing, and they had to do it through team work and making the most of each of their individual strengths and knowledge. For GFAR, which is a network working to bring together diverse voices, skills and capacities, there was a lesson to be learned here in just what the ingredients of a successful collective action really are.
So, we got down and dirty. In groups, we set off for the pig pens, chicken coops and cow paddocks to identify the innovative technologies and techniques being used. We studied tomato and aubergine plants warmed in greenhouses, talked with bakers as they milled their own flour, and learned about the process for making cheese from the milk of the coop’s 1,000 sheep. We discovered how the coop had managed to keep its operations sustainable both financially and ecologically for four decades. Above all, the self-sustainability of the coop impressed us—the coop completely integrates its activities to eliminate waste, promote animal and human health and nurture a social fabric of common values.
Having witnessed first-hand the collective actions of the coop, we were ready to start thinking about what it was that made this, and by extension GFAR’s, collective actions, successful.
Walking the Walk towards achieving the SDGs
The opening statement from Mark Holderness “We’re here to work for the farmers and how they will benefit” characterized the opening discussions as we got down to the challenging work of agreeing the criteria for what a GFAR collective action should be, and discussed in detail what those actions would look like in practice. Throughout our group work sessions, marketplace presentations, and open discussions, the why of it all remained paramount.
“Cooperation and partnership remained the core themes as the meeting progressed through the next two days. There were 13 different constituencies represented at the meeting and it became clear to me very quickly that together our diverse skills and networks – from farmers, the private sector, civil society, research organizations and public bodies – were far greater than the sum of our parts. Over two days we worked to develop “collective actions” that would use the GFAR platform to make real, on-the-ground impact and help the global community meet the Sustainable Development Goals. We must now engage and motivate all of our constituencies into the work plan. Rather than just talk the talk, GFAR must also be able to walk the walk, because unless we act now and collectively, the global community will fail to meet the SDGs.” –Will Surman
This was “more than just a meeting…rather it was a solemn commitment to really, really take humanity forward to a whole new level…a candid desire to work towards the betterment of fellow human beings and achieve the SDGs in our respective constituencies, and wherever possible…”
–Yogesh Jadhav, representative of local women’s associations
GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth generated in non-agriculture sectors (FAO 2016). To end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture (SDG2), a thriving agriculture sector is crucial. In GFAR, we believe that collective actions that break down the barriers between the actors in agricultural development are the answer to meeting the SDGs. In the words of Shantanu Mathur, GFAR Acting Vice-Chair, “In order to deliver on the SDGs, we have got to develop an inter-sectorial platform – this is where GFAR’s value proposition lies.”
“Based on our experience, we need GFAR’s support in developing Innovation & Policy Platforms as well as leading National Innovation Systems because the long-term prosperity of our nations is dependent on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.”
–Sergie Bang, regional representative for Asia-Pacific
As the world faces these big challenges, the agri-food research and innovation community can look to “collective actions as concrete ways to act on complex issues” –Sayed Azam Ali, representative of international public research institutions. It won’t be an easy task, but as the members of the GFAR Steering Committee we are ready to further engage with the nearly 500 Partners in GFAR to get grounded, commit to action, and learn by doing together. “The most important thing now is to keep the momentum—it’s clear that we’re all trying to go to the same place!” –Maria Rodriguez, representative of the Latin America and the Caribbean Region.
“FAO is committed to supporting GFAR, as a network of networks.”
–Ren Wang, ADG, FAO
Video by Sabrina Iannucci (sabrina.iannucci(at)gmail(dot)com)
Blogpost by Charles Plummer, GFAR Secretariat
Photo credits: Sabrina Iannucci, Wale Adekunle & Charles Plummer