An Urban's Rural View

Greetings, Food System Front-Line Actors

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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Is this a farmer or a food system front-line actor? (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)

Some say "producers," others (including me) say "farmers," or "farmers and ranchers." But like the distinction songwriter George Gershwin made between saying po-TAY-to and po-TAH-to, this is linguistic quibbling. There's no political tinge to it.

The same can't be said of a recent attempt to eliminate the words "agriculture" and "farmers" at the climate summit in Dubai. According to A.G. Kawamura, a Southern California farmer who attended the summit, a draft of a "call to action" document replaced agriculture with "food system" and farmers with "food system front-line actors."

In the estimation of Kawamura and some of the other actual farmers in attendance, this was a deliberate slap at modern agriculture. The drafters apparently see today's agriculture, especially big farms using lots of technology, as a problem.

Kawamura is co-founder and co-chair of Solutions from the Land, a non-profit group that, as its name suggests, sees farmers, ranchers and foresters as the solution to many of the world's problems. SfL and a broader group called the Farmers Constituency refused to sign on to the draft call to action. They suggested edits restoring the traditional terms and offered a revised preamble defending them.

You'll find the full text of the revised preamble at the end of this column. It's worth reading. Here's the key passage:

"We are not 'actors' on the stage of humanity. Farmers build the stage that allows humanity to exist and act out the tragedy, drama or enlightenment of our existence!"

Underlying this argument over terminology is a bigger debate. Both sides worry about climate change and other environmental problems. SfL's 2021 report urging a "21st Century Agricultural Renaissance" says today's agriculture "must address," among other things, clean water, healthy soil, ecosystem resilience, climate change and greenhouse gases. (…)

But that doesn't require banning big farms that use technology, Sfl believes. The report advocates "sustainable intensification" and says "new approaches, innovations and technologies" are "key strategies" in the agricultural renaissance it envisions. (Ironically, Kawamura himself farms small plots and grows organic fruits and vegetables on some of them.) (…)

Kawamura doesn't hold out much hope that restoring agriculture and farmers to the document won over any hearts or minds. People believe what they believe; it's not easy to change their minds.

Still, we can salute Kawamura and his colleagues for striking a blow against fuzzy language and for common sense. What they produced is a statement that should warm the hearts of all farmers, whatever the size of their operations or their production methods.

Here's the full text of the revised preamble:

"A reliable food supply is essential for humanity to be able to live on earth. Agriculture, in all of its many dimensions and forms produces that supply, day after day, against a long list of challenges, climatic disruptions and poor policy by those with good intentions but poor understanding. We are not 'actors' on the stage of humanity. Farmers build the stage that allows humanity to exist and act out the tragedy, drama or enlightenment of our existence!" it said.

"Farmers are the stewards of our planet's resources endeavoring to responsibly manage multiple life systems while sustainably using available resources ... in order to produce a reliable and predictable supply of food, fiber, feed and fuel. Successful agriculture sustains civilization!"

Urban Lehner can be reached at


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