Leadership is an Obligation


The first thing I noticed was the hugging.

As a group of farmers from around the world gathered in Argentina earlier this month to discuss challenges and opportunities for agriculture now and in the future, we didn’t just offer the standard greetings of handshakes and head nods. We embraced like long-lost friends at a family reunion.

GFN farmers mobilized in Argentina.

“How can we never have met but still be so close?” asked one of the participants.

It was a great question. I had flown from the frigid north of Canada to Buenos Aires, where it is now summer in the southern hemisphere. About 60 farmers from nearly 30 countries joined me, in a mobilization and information sharing opportunity hosted by the Global Farmer Network.

Cherilyn Jolly Nagel, Canada, Pilu Giraudo, Argentina and Malwinder Malhi, India, pose for a photo.

A handful of us had met before, and more of us knew each other as farmers through social media and online messaging. For the most part, however, we were strangers.

Our differences in appearance and background were obvious. We grow all kinds of crops and raised a variety of livestock, on farms both large and small.

I learned in conversation that many of my colleagues face problems that are utterly alien to my life as a farmer in Saskatchewan.

While my thoughts occasionally turn to national security and trade friction with China, I’m more likely to laugh about surveillance balloons than to worry about war. Yet A.D. Alvarez of the Philippines agonizes about how a conflict between China and Taiwan would affect him personally.

In Colombia, Jose Luis Chacon confronts threats of violence against his farm, where he produces poultry and palm oil. In Nigeria, Patience Koku must hire security guards to prevent theft—and sometimes the security guards become the thieves.

Yet as farmers we share a lot in common. We know what it’s like to work the land, care for the soil, and pass along an inheritance to our children. We work to capture the attention and ears of policymakers who make the rules and regulations that govern so much of what we do. We struggle to share our stories with consumers who are increasingly disconnected from farms and often ignorant about what it takes to produce the healthy food that we all need.

We also know that agriculture has the solutions to many of the world’s problems—but we wonder if farmers will be allowed to offer them.

I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to provide solutions as a farmer and advocate. In addition to growing food, I build relationships with decisionmakers and consumers to promote agriculture.

Much of my work necessarily involves Saskatchewan and Canada, where I seek to expand trade opportunities and improve access to technology within my borders and way beyond.

It turns out that farmers almost everywhere also believe in these principles. We know that many of our markets are outside our countries. As we exchange goods and services across borders, we see protectionism as a threat.

What’s more, we all need and want access to innovative technology. Here in Canada, I can buy some of the world’s best seeds—but I’m also interested in how science can make them even better, and I’m pushing for the advances that will continue to let farmers to grow more food on less land than ever before.

In the developing world, farmers seek much the same thing. They want great seeds, but many of their governments block them from buying and planting the biotech enhanced seeds that have transformed agriculture around the planet.

When farmers enjoy the opportunity to make the most of technology, they come up with amazing ways to pursue their agricultural interests, such as an “Uber for tractors” in Uganda, a fish-farming phone app in Kenya, and a farm-security app in Nigeria.

Beneath it all is a belief in sound science and the promise of technology—and that’s why I’ve become a promoter of the Global Farmer Statement on Plant Breeding Innovation, a document that seeks to find common interests amid the astounding diversity of agriculture.

It’s a Canadian-led initiative but just about every farmer can support its ideas. I’m proud of this because as a Canadian in a room full of my respected farming peers I felt a strong obligation to demand more from my resource-rich country. The world needs more of what Canada can offer- food, fuel, fertilizer and maybe most importantly, leadership.

We live in a world with a changing climate, geopolitical threats, and a growing population of more than 8 billion people—but there is power in knowledge and the collaborations we create.

Now we’ve met and hugged, and together farmers are more determined than ever.

Cherilyn Jolly Nagel

Cherilyn Jolly Nagel

Raised on the Saskatchewan prairies, Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel and her husband David continue their love for the land while growing grains, pulses, oilseed crops, along with two daughters in Mossbank. Elected as the first female President for the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, Cherilyn challenged government policies that affected the business of agriculture and is a leader on issues that impact farmers on grain transportation, governance, trade and public trust. As board member for the Global Farmer Network, Cherilyn advocates for strong global trade relations and for farmers use of technological advancements. In 2021, Cherilyn was recognized as one of Canada's Top 50 People of Influence in Agriculture. Cherilyn was interviewed in the documentary 'License to Farm' where she encouraged other farmers to share their stories with the public, was featured with Canadian Chef Michael Smith in a video to promote lentils and featured in an episode of Canadian Better Living on the topic of pesticide use and promotion of plant biotechnology. Invited by the Mattel Toy company, Cherilyn was a mentor in the 'Barbie: You Can Be Anything Mentorship' program for young girls who dream of being a farmer.

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One thought on “Leadership is an Obligation

  1. Cherilyn is good farmer, Leader, Menter, Proud of you. Lot of wishes