Don’t Read the UN Report on Climate Change: Read These Stories Instead

You might not believe this — some people are hopeful about the future

Charlie Mitchell
5 min readAug 14, 2019


Witthaya Prasongsin for Getty Images

Perhaps you’re thinking that those idiots haven’t heard about the latest UN report, which states that until we dramatically shift the way we farm, climate change will clobber us and our food supply will be at serious and increasing risk.

But that’s just what these crazy people are hopeful about.

Beacons of Hope: Accelerating Transformations to Sustainable Food Systems” is a new report out from a group philanthropies called the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, in partnership with the Swiss-based, Africa-focused Biovision Foundation. They insist that the revolution necessary to rescue climate stability and a reliable food supply is already happening, and illustrate that claim with twenty-one examples. The idea is that if enough people hear about these stories and can be convinced that the transformation we so desperately need is possible and real, change will accelerate.

After I read them I felt hopeful. (I can’t believe I’m saying this.) Here’s a few stories from the report to brighten your day a bit:

The first begins with elephant poaching in rural Zambia; a bad thing. Most poachers don’t kill precious animals to get rich but to survive. In the case of these men in the Luangwa Valley, poor yields and drought made their families hungry. Some conservationists realized that locking people up for poaching wasn’t going to do the trick; it would only make them hungrier.

In 2003, Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO) made a simple offer to around twenty high-profile poachers in the valley: for free, they would get good seeds, tools, and coaching on the basics of building up soils and managing pests, as long as they gave up their guns and pledged to leave the elephants alone.

“Soon,” the organization writes on its website, “hundreds of poachers were approaching COMACO’s field staff offering to surrender their weapons for a similar trade.”

COMACO, a nonprofit business, purchased the bounty of the valley — soy, peanuts, beans, rice, and honey — at a price they knew would keep the new farmers in business. Since the Valley’s remoteness makes it hard for individuals to transport crops to market, combining everyone’s yield was the way to go. The nonprofit took those goods, processed and packaged them into snack nuts and staple grains, and sold them under a super-successful Zambian brand called It’s Wild. (I really want to try their peanut butter.) The farmers are rewarded by the nonprofit for conservation practices, and 80 cooperatives with a total membership of almost 200,000 farmers are now a part of the program.

Why does this represent real transformation? A couple of things. It’s a genius approach to saving elephants, and even a meditation on justice itself. To solve the crisis we face, we’ll have to transform our assumptions about why anyone participates in systems that harm natural life.

COMACO reminds us that generally, no one does violence to living things because they want to, but because they want for better options. That’s a different starting place than what most Americans are used to.

But COMACO also transforms our idea of markets. Typically the chief goal of a processor — like Frito-Lay — is to bid down the farmer as hard as possible. In fact, a shrewd businessperson would find the farmer who is able to deliver the lowest price in the highest volume and consistency, buying only from them. But COMACO is a different kind of middleman. It’s invested in the well-being of its farmers, yet it still manages to feed people on the other side.

COMACO functions like a business but is free of the burden of the need for profit; it thrives on the economics of “enough.” Enough outlays for the farmers to live on; enough revenues to keep training more farmers, paying staff, and developing new programs. Surely if we ever figure out how to save the world, our only priorities will be that people are fed, and we’ll stop bothering with this superfluous concept of profit. We don’t have the time or resources for that.

Stop rolling your eyes. If we’re going to be hopeful, we have to talk like idealists.

On to the Philippines. MASIPAG is web of nonprofits, farmers and cooperatives, and scientists all working to break the stranglehold of multinational capital on the production of its chief staple, rice. The status quo drives fertilizer use, proprietary seeds, and buying control held by cartels. Farmers can’t replace this system all by themselves; it really takes a village to build all the infrastructure necessary for new ways of doing things to emerge: research to validate policy, farmer-to-farmer teaching, policy development, and advocacy.

MASIPAG brings that village together by forming collaborations between farmers and scientists that generate a solid information base on which to deliver scientifically rigorous, farmer-approved policies for good food and farming. Their next step is to advocate for the Phillipino government to make their cross-disciplinary research, local seed banks, bottom-up decision making, and small markets the law of the land.

Then there’s the “March of the Daisies.” Five times since 2000, tens of thousands of rural Brazilian women have descended on Brasilia to advocate for gender parity, agrarian reform, supportive rural policy, and an end to violence against women. In 2012, a national policy emerged that appeared to begin to address these issues: a National Policy for Agroecology and Organic Production (PNAPO), which now operates myriad bureaucracies in many corners of this massive country. It functions on both alternative and conventional tiers, with a transition to agroecology being the goal. (Agroecology is the set of sustainable and traditional methods of agriculture that promote the land use necessary to secure our food supply and curb emissions while retaining and rebuilding social structures.) This is all to say that rural activism and leadership, by women, can result in an otherwise disinterested government taking on major investment in its agrarian population.

And yet Brazil’s national politics are in about as dire shape as ours, and under the executive leadership of a corrupt and bigoted buffoon that takes after our current president, these initiatives are hampered while deforestation is accelerating. Let’s hope these women keep marching, and that more Brazilians and people around the world realize that a threat to the Amazon and the livelihoods of rural and indigenous people is a threat to us all.

Some think that technology will solve our big problems for us with solar panels and electric cars. (In the food world, that’s Precision Agriculture and Impossible Burgers.) The UN report is trying to tell us that that won’t be enough. Thankfully, there are examples of transformative change happening now that we need to start to spread. Click on this report and start imagining how we can bring this change to the US. They’re a quick read, and plus, you might experience this weird feeling called hope — which, I have to admit, is pretty nice.

Charlie Mitchell is a writer and researcher currently based in Des Moines, Iowa.



Charlie Mitchell
Writer for

Chicago-based reporter and writer focused on agriculture and food. Reach out: charlie [at] tom [dot] org more at