Asking the farmers what they need

By Sarah Evanega

September 19, 2017

Farmers share their stories at an Alliance training session. Photo by Robert Hazen

Everybody likes to talk about what farmers need. But nobody asks the farmers.

These words from Balwinder Kang, who grows a mix of GM and non-GM crops in Rajasthan, India, speak to the very core of why the Alliance for Science convened its first farmer training this week.

We brought 40 farmers from 14 countries to a modest hotel in Rock Island, Ill., the heart of America s heartland, because we want to ask them what they need and listen to their answers. We want to hear their personal stories about the challenges they face in accessing agricultural innovations like biotechnology to help them ensure the food security of their communities and their nations.

The timing of the course is opportune, coming the week after we launched the second phase of our work and our new campaign around the theme of justice, evidence and urgency inspiring a climate for change. The farmers we ve brought together on the banks of the Mississippi encounter the concepts of justice, evidence and urgency in their daily work and are remarkable champions for change.

As farmers, we have common stories, said AD Alvarez, a forward leaning farmer from a small island in the Philippines. We also have common horror stories.

I was both awed and inspired as I sat through the first day of introductions and stories. The commitment in the room to lessening human suffering through their profession as farmers and community leaders was moving. There was the farmer from northwest Uganda who himself lived 12 years in exile offering half of his land to hungry refugees from the North. We heard from a South African farmer who does his part to give back to his community by donating grain to old age homes and orphanages. Other farmers are running schools and NGOs to ensure that the under-30-year-olds who comprise roughly 60 percent of the African population might be inspired to continue the noble profession of land steward and food producer.

Farmers discuss the rewards and challenges of their work. Photo by Robert Hazen

Farming is not just a profession for the poor, a farmer from the Philippines reminded us. We are feeding the world.

These are poignant, compelling, passionate stories, told by some of the most authentic and authoritative voices on the planet. They are stories of injustice, of urgency, told by the very people who feed the world and are working locally to lift their communities out of poverty.

This week in Rock Island we are getting to know 40 new science allies who share our mission and have joined us in our urgent fight for justice and evidence-based decision-making in agriculture.

As I sat and listened, I thought, if this is just week one of our campaign, imagine what we will achieve together in the months ahead.

Join us. Consider supporting the Alliance for Science $10M by 2020 campaign so we can continue to amplify the voices of farmers and ensure that they are heard.