Rory has been invited to the USA on a Global Farmers Network trip and has been updating us throughout using the voice memo app on his phone. Here’s what he’s said so far about the first part of his trip…
Hi all, here’s a quick note on what we've done so far on the Global Farmers Network trip to Washington DC.
I got a flight out of Glasgow at 0630 in the morning, arriving at Washington Dulles airport (via Amsterdam) at half three in the afternoon. I was picked up and taken to the Embassy Suites in Central Washington - right in the centre of the political area of Washington DC!
There are 17 nations represented here, by 17 individuals. It's been a mix of learning. Mostly about how to communicate to sell or to be able to deliver our story and deliver what is essentially agricultural advocacy. Learning to defend, protect and promote farming and become able political communicators.
On day one we were in a classroom all day, we met various American policy-influencing people and we were hosted by IFPRI.
After we finished in the classroom we were fed and watered with a great range of international foods – more great advocacy!
We then went out to a reception at Farm Credit, a cooperative that was initially government-funded but is now self-funded by its members. It administers farm loans without which, American farmers couldn't operate.
The Board of Directors explained the governance: there are county, state and national Farm Credit associations which sell bonds to finance the loans and pay a dividend to the members.
We went on a tour of Washington including The White House, the Supreme Court and Capitol Hill. We also went to the Korean and Vietnam war memorials and the Lincoln, Roosevelt and Luther King memorials. Looking at their respective wise words in stone, I was left feeling "Where are the great leaders today?". I just don't see that leadership today. I don't see the quality of statesmanship. It worries me. Where will that leadership come from? Never before have we needed greater leadership to deal with global warming, climate change and all of the problems we have.
A lot of people in the group are from underdeveloped countries. There was a lady from the Philippines where they've had four typhoons this year. When she made a presentation, she broke down because the previous day a typhoon had hit the Philippines and killed many people. I'm sharing with a 26-year-old guy from Tanzania who is an activist for youth development. He says he wants to give voice to voiceless people but when you hear the level of corruption, the lack of infrastructure and the lack of necessities - he lives on $1 a day - it makes me realise how privileged we are. Another guy, Ravi from India who is in his 60s shared his thoughts on the Green Revolution. As a child, he was in constant hunger and now India has this amazing agricultural output exporting nearly all categories of food and there is great wealth but there's still disparity and farmers are no wealthier than they ever were, and they're still hungry. So, along the way, I'm learning all these stories, and I'm learning about the problems that people have in other countries.
I'm certain there is a unified common problem that farmers feel undervalued, that they have lost their place in society, and that we desperately want to return ourselves to a place where society respects us for what we do. The guys in underdeveloped countries truly understand the basic need for farmers to put food on the table, that they are providing the service that stops people starving, and in our Western wealthy, privileged society, I think that people have forgotten that basic premise.
What they don't realise, is that we can help solve the climate change problem. And that we can use our science and our wealth to demonstrate and develop best practices, and show the rest of the world how to bring emissions down - and still provide food. And that is my cause, to try and bring value to farming for all the things that we don't get paid for today: carbon, natural capital & data.
We finished the day at a rooftop reception at the embassy of the National Beef Farmers' Association - a massively influential and effective organisation making sure that a farmer's voice is heard. They are a lobbying body and collect membership fees of around $1,000 a head. I was talking to a farmer on the board of the National Beef Council who said he would pay about $20k a year to make sure that their interests are looked after in Washington. We had some excellent cheeseburgers and chillies which blew my head off!
It is extremely interesting so far. It's certainly opening my eyes and giving me a global insight. It's giving me great respect for other farmers around the world. And it is great to be with farmers who are proud of what they do and have common problems and common belief in what is right. Without a doubt, without even saying it, we all believe in the same thing, which is really reassuring.