Returning from Glasgow to my family’s farm in Poland, I’ve reflected on the privilege and tremendous opportunity I experienced as I shared my story and supported other farmers voices as we showcased what farmers across the world are doing on our farms to mitigate and adapt to climate change at COP26.
Given that farmers are directly dependent on the ecosystems they steward, we are the key stakeholders in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Therefore, it is imperative that farmers attend these events and showcase what we are doing in this area so that others can hear us tell our stories—precisely as they did in Glasgow.
Agriculture must be front and center at each of these events. If that does not happen, there is a risk that officials and activists will treat us as subjects rather than as partners in the work identifying and engaging the solutions to the climate emergency.
Few understand the threat of climate change as well as farmers. We spend much of our lives outdoors, and climate affects our industry perhaps more than any other.
Here on our farm, where we grow the highest-quality hay in the delta of the Vistula River, we’ve seen how climate can change over time. My grandfather started farming in the area in 1973, after moving here from the south-eastern part of Poland. At that time, one of his biggest challenges was too much water. Today, with the second and third generations in charge, we face the opposite problem: prolonged periods of drought and a water level that is down by at least a meter. We have also witnessed the loss of biodiversity as well as a rise in unexpected weather events.
We’ve taken steps to reduce the harmful effects of these negative developments. Starting in 2004, we transitioned our whole farm away from an annual, plough-based cropping system. Initially, we adopted minimum till, which had us discing the soil right after the harvest time to establish cover crop. Since then, we’ve gone even further, moving into permanent grasslands, hence returning to the natural ecosystem habitat of the landscape we steward, while making money. This is how we understand and live ‘regenerative agriculture’ in our specific circumstances: environmental, financial, political, regulatory and many, many others.
This climate-friendly approach turns out to be excellent for our farm, perfectly suited to the natural system in which we’re embedded as well as more resilient to variations in the weather. At the same time, we’re removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in our soil. This is the key to mitigating climate change while at the same time increasing the resilience of our farming business through increased soil health and simultaneously helping us adapt to the climate change effects we feel and see on our farm already.
This isn’t just about environmental sustainability, though. It’s also about economic sustainability: As we’ve shifted our farm from climate-exposed to climate-smart, our profitability has increased through positive cash flow and significantly less risk.
It turns out that we don’t have to choose between a healthy environment and healthy farms. If we’re wise about our approaches, we can have both.
This firsthand experience gives me an important story to tell at gatherings such as COP26: Although farmers are often perceived as part of the climate-change problem, we are in fact an essential part of the climate-change solution. The solution literally lies below our feet—in the soil as all the farmers of the world know.
This was my major message at COP26, which I attended as the Regenerative Agricultural Fellow at the Climate Champions Team. In this role, I supported farmers from across the world in showcasing their actions to the negotiators and other stakeholders, and I had the opportunity to present what exactly we do on our farm in Poland.
Because this was not the first opportunity I have had to meet with diverse stakeholders, including policymakers and climate negotiators, I was not surprised that many of the conference-goers were receptive to hearing and learning from farmers’ work with many actively looking for knowledge. They’re willing to talk to farmers and understand us. Once they understand us, they appreciate us.
Here are three helpful things that farmers almost anywhere can do right now:
- First, avoid emissions where possible. Addressing food waste, so that we’re not emitting greenhouse gases for food that goes uneaten is a key area of action.
- Second, reduce emissions as much as we can. One possible step is to use variable-rate fertilizer applications to lower fertilizer runoff.
- Third, increase carbon sequestration. Improved soil health through no-till and other practices, such as the development of carbon sinks (peatlands, woody biomass), will help us take carbon out of the skies above our heads and stash it in the ground beneath our feet.
Climate change is real. While we can—and do—take steps to mitigate it, adaptation is equally important. Farmers have been, are, and will be doing both.
As farmers, we are our own best advocates. We should tell our stories at every opportunity, including UN forums. Only in this way, can we ensure solutions rooted in on-the-farm reality and science will prevail.
While advocating and having a voice at key global forums is important, it is our actions at the farm-level that will continue to deliver impact.
Now is the time. We must move from deliberation to delivery. Climate change will not wait for us. We need to act. Now.