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Call for food system that respects everybody

Photo of Nicoline de Haan at COP27 Photo: ENB/IISD.

This article was originally published by Irish Examiner.

"If we need to change our food system, we need to change how we value our food system."

A food system that “actually respects” every player in it must be reimagined, COP27 in Egypt heard in recent days.

Speaking during a session on helping women and youth in agriculture build resilience against climate change, Nicoline de Haan, director of the CGIAR Gender Platform said that we must “reimagine our systems, we cannot continue as we are at the moment”.

“We need to start including everybody’s voices and we need to continue listening and reflecting the voices and the needs of a whole group of people that have been silenced up to now,” she told the event.

“If we need to change our food system, we need to change how we value our food system - the norms and the values around our food system.

“This brings us to gender, where we need to start reimagining our relationships between men and women and what men and women can do in this space.

“The norms and values are often what keep gender issues from moving forward, so at the same time as climate change, at the same time as reimaging our food system, reimagine how we work between men and women in that space.” She added that internationally, “we do still need more funding on even understanding gender in agriculture, and then the next step is youth”.

Change starts at the kitchen table

Closer to home, speaking in recent weeks on the vision for the future of farming in Ireland, Macra na Feirme national president John Keane said that dealing with climate change “provides an opportunity” for young farmers, “who will adopt the practices and the best solutions science has to offer”.

Mr Keane said that changes around age and gender in agriculture start “at the kitchen table”.

“The idea that the son or grandson or whoever might be the person automatically assumed to take over [the farm] is where the first part of the conversation needs to start,” he said.

“We need to create the narrative at home as much as anywhere else that we have equal opportunities for our sons or daughters coming after us.”

Mr Keane said that it must be ensured that more young women are being encouraged into agricultural education, “and providing opportunities for them to take on those opportunities more widely in agriculture”, he told an Oireachtas committee meeting.

“The membership of our agricultural affairs committee is nearly half and half. Our young women representatives on that are constantly coming forward and saying, ‘address the barriers that are there for young farmers and more of us will come through’.

“Break down the barriers to young people and more of us young people and young women will see the opportunity that it creates in the sector.”

Role models

Developing role models for young people, particularly women, is also important, Mr Keane said.

“It does not matter what farming enterprise you are in or what gender you are, the more young role models in the sector, the more opportunities are provided for somebody to say, ‘I want to be like that. That is something I can pursue’, alongside supports.”

Mr Keane acknowledged that the age profile of farmers “has been continually increasing” over the years.

“If this continues unabated, we will experience what the church has experienced in recent years in its demise,” he told politicians.

“The lack of supports for young entrant farmers is tantamount to actively restricting access for new entrants to the industry.

“If we continue on this path, we will in effect clear the land. The land will go back to being unproductive.

“Allowing land to go fallow will increase our risk of food insecurity and not ensure that food is produced in the most sustainable way possible.”

With the number of farmers under the age of 35 standing currently at less than 5%, “fundamental change and targeted supports” are required to address the decreasing numbers of young farmers.

“A mere 20 years ago, the percentage of farmers under 35 stood at 13%,” Mr Keane said. 

“Bearing this in mind, can we really justify continuing with more of the same to address the issue of generational renewal?

“Based on 2016 figures, 30% of farmers who are head of the holding are over the age of 65.

“This figure significantly increases when we look at those in more disadvantaged areas, especially those on uplands and peat soils.”