Farmers unite at World Farmers’ Organisation
By Gary Wertish, MFU President
As family farm operations evolve over time, the need for fair prices and policies stays the same. That’s why Farmers Union formed and continues its work today.
But it’s not just in the United States that we have work to do. Family farmers and rural communities all over the world face similar struggles, from insufficient market prices to rural infrastructure problems to drought. These are issues farmers from Minnesota to Cambodia think about on a daily basis.
The World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) was formed in the mid-2000s with that knowledge in mind. It is made up of family farm organizations from North America, Africa, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Oceania, with the mission of representing and advocating on behalf of farmers in global policy forums and influence policies that improve the economic environment and quality of life for farmers, their families and rural communities. National Farmers Union (NFU) is a member of WFO. I represented NFU at the WFO General Assembly in late May in Moscow, Russia, where representatives of member organizations came together for discussion and voting on WFO policies.
The overarching theme of the General Assembly was climate change and how it’s affecting agriculture. Many farmers have faced challenges in their work and have needed to adapt to the dramatic weather that’s become more and more frequent. We’ve seen it here in Minnesota with heavy summer rains and late season heat. I heard from a Cambodian farmer about how extreme weather has affected them, too, in more significant ways. They have had even heavier rains and a hotter climate throughout the year, as well as an uptick in diseases.
During the program, WFO announced it was beginning new working groups for various agricultural topic areas. Some topics include food security, climate change, cooperatives, women in agriculture and livestock, all topics Farmers Union is invested in. I was named the facilitator for the livestock working group, joining farmers from Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Ireland and Argentina. We’ll have discussions about global issues in livestock and our ideas about them. I look forward to this work.
After the business session, we took some time to visit farms in the area. The first was a 100-cow dairy farm with a cheese plant in the works, which we learned was heavily subsidized by the government. The second farm was a large horticulture operation, similar to Gerten’s that we have in Minnesota. It was a long-running operation that sold trees and shrubs. The last farm was a 400-cow dairy which looked fairly similar to ones here. It’s always interesting to observe farms in another country – we see differences, but we also see what we do the same.
National Farmers Union has long been involved with international farm advocacy, even before WFO was formed. I am thankful to have gone to General Assembly and represented the family farmers of Minnesota and the U.S. It’s important to remember that like NFU in the U.S., WFO advocates for the needs of family farmers and rural communities, encouraging cooperative work to create better policy.