Let me tell you a story about how putting words into action transitioned into a global movement.
Twenty years ago this week, five Iowa farmers were worried about the future of trade and technology in agriculture—and we were even more worried that farmers lacked a voice in the conversations and debates on these topics that were breaking out everywhere.
I should know because I was one of those farmers—and I remember watching with concern the news about a massive protest against global trade, tied to a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in the fall of 1999. Far from a peaceful gathering, it descended violence, vandalism, and property destruction. In a recent recap, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described it plainly: “Seattle exploded.”
The mayhem earned a troubling nickname: “The Battle of Seattle.”
Back in Iowa, I grew distressed. As a lifelong farmer in America’s heartland, I’ve always depended on the ability to grow crops as I thought best and to sell food to people in other countries. Something like a third of my corn is exported, in an economic arrangement that creates jobs for workers, builds wealth in the heartland, and cuts our national trade deficit.
Seattle showed that some people seek to eliminate these benefits—and that they were willing to take extreme action.
Farmers had to respond. We needed to speak up and tell our stories.
The five of us decided collectively to take action and start a brand-new non-profit organization, led entirely by farmers and focused on amplifying the farmers voice.
Our mission was simple: We’d tell the truth about trade and technology, explaining why we need access to both foreign markets and modern methods. We’d establish a website, make ourselves available to journalists, appear on radio and television programs, and write our own columns for publication.
Today we’re much more than just five guys in Iowa. We’re more than 200 farmers in over 50 countries—and we’re called the Global Farmer Network.
Our mission remains exactly what it was two decades ago: We amplify the voice of farmers in promoting trade, technology, sustainable farming, economic growth, and food security.
What does this mean in practice?
It means that Rosalie Ellasus, a corn producer in the Philippines, can explain the value of golden rice and how its regulatory approval will fight malnutrition in developing countries.
It means that V. Ravichandran, a farmer in India, can describe the benefits of genetically modified crops and call for nations everywhere to adopt them.
It means that three women who farm in the United States, Mexico, and Canada can join together and make the case for a new North American trade agreement.
And that’s just in the last few weeks!
But we’ve been at it for two decades, fighting for sensible trade agreements, access to innovative technologies like biotechnology, gene-editing, irrigation, and more. Our methods of communication have kept up with the times—today we’re active in social media, which didn’t exist when we started—but our basic principles have remained the same.
So has a fundamental challenge: Many people don’t know much about food production. They have lots of questions and opinions about what farmers do. Sometimes they come to believe things that just aren’t true, especially on the science of plant genetics and the importance of crop protection.
As farmers, we have a unique ability to set things straight. At a time when so many do not trust politicians or the media, they still believe in farmers. We have a reputation for honesty, being authentic, clear-minded and telling it like it is. We supply facts, data and explain why we do what we do. We know what it takes to feed the world.
The purpose of the Global Farmer Network is to make sure that farmers are empowered and have a strong voice in all of these conversations—and a place at the table when policymakers gather. This global movement is gaining traction and making an impact.
Today we celebrate the farmers from around the world who have joined us in this cause. We remain committed to working together to reframe and foster constructive public dialogue regarding trade, sustainable farming practices and innovative agricultural technologies as tools to enhance global food and nutritional security, improve environmental sustainability and drive economic impact, raising the quality of life around the world.