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Published April 07, 2014, 09:13 AM

WFO represents farm interests internationally

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Close to 300 representatives of 70 farm organizations from 50 countries gathered in Buenos Aires in late March for the fourth general assembly of the World Farmers’ Organization, a group formed in 2011 under the leadership of former North Dakota Farmers Union President Robert Carlson.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Close to 300 representatives of 70 farm organizations from 50 countries gathered in Buenos Aires in late March for the fourth general assembly of the World Farmers’ Organization, a group formed in 2011 under the leadership of former North Dakota Farmers Union President Robert Carlson.

The WFO’s purpose is to represent the interests of farmers in the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and other international forums, and to allow farm leaders around the world to exchange ideas.

The WFO is based in Rome, the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, but holds a general assembly in a different country each year.

“We have to speak up for ourselves,” Carlson said in a March 24 speech. Carlson added that there are many other groups advising what agriculture should do, but they often don’t know much about agriculture.

As a representative of the National Farmers Union to IFAP, Carlson decided that a new international organization was needed and convinced several global organizations to provide initial financing to establish the WFO. WFO now has a membership of 70 farm groups and co-ops from 50 countries, including Cambodia and Zambia, and an annual budget of more than $1 million.

Big, industrial-scale farmers and small farmers from poor countries have shown at WFO’s meetings that they have more in common than expected, Carlson said.

Goals

WFO’s first objective — to get a stronger farm voice on climate change in the negotiations over the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change — has proven elusive. The UN has declined to establish a working group on agriculture, Carlson said, because “civil-society groups, particularly the big environmental groups, don’t want agriculture to be included. They view us as a big polluter.”

But Carlson is particularly proud that the group has established a joint position on international trade. That position is that it is fine for countries to establish their own food security policy, but that such a country should not export into world markets. Carlson’s second point of pride is that the organization is helping write a model law for contract farming for poultry and other areas of production. Contracts guarantee farmers a market and a price but they can also bear an unfair burden of responsibilities if the contract is not written properly, Carlson said.

Carlson is also urging the WFO to undertake new studies of what Americans call concentration in agriculture because so many input suppliers and grain buying companies have merged in recent years.

The WFO has not established a position on genetic modification, Carlson said, because there is too much disagreement within the organization.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farm group, has so far declined to join WFO. National Farmers Union members are Democratic-leaning and Farm Bureau members are Republican-leaning, but Carlson said he would welcome Farm Bureau into the WFO.

At this year’s assembly, the delegates elected Peter Kendall, the former president of the National Farmers Union in the United Kingdom, for a two-year term. Carlson will remain involved in the organization because his wife Sue will continue to head WFO’s women’s committee, which concerns itself with female farmers’ issues worldwide.

Carlson said he will continue to farm in Glenburn, N.D., but maintain his residence in Jamestown. The Carlsons also plan to spend part of each winter in Hawaii.

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