Many politicians, as well as U.S. farm and food organizations, have talked about the need to recruit more diverse candidates but many say they are unable to source diverse talent. However, the members of a newly-formed organization—Black Professionals in Food and Agriculture (BPFA) — aim to prove that is not true. Their leaders contend that there is plenty of diversity in the agriculture industry; the bigger problem is a lack of inclusion.
A group of five, representing both the private and government sectors, launched a LinkedIn page announcing their plans over the weekend and their ranks have now expanded to over 100. The initial founders include Karis Gutter, lead, U.S. government and industry affairs, Corteva; Kellie Adesina, director of federal government affairs, Bayer; Jasmine Dickerson, staff director, subcommittee on nutrition, oversight and department operation for the House Agriculture Committee; Ashlee Johnson, director of corporate sustainability, FMC; and Eyang Garrison, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio.
“All too often the voices and input of Black policy makers, congressional staffers, and industry representatives are excluded in the development of policies and programs that serve America’s farmers, ranchers, and producers. We are committed to ensuring that those voices have a presence in the room and a seat at the table,” noted Dickerson when introducing the group on her LinkedIn page. The group also posted an opinion piece with advice for the new Biden administration that can be found here.
Gutter told Agri-Pulse that, after years of being marginalized, “we felt the need to build a stronger community that includes not only professional development but policy formation.”
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Some of their first calls were with the National Black Growers Council, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences) to discuss ways to “develop, nurture, groom and grow that pipeline of policy professionals,” Gutter said. In that regard, more details will be forthcoming.
For now, the group is focused on the “opportunity that’s right in front of us” as a result of the election, Gutter said, including about 250 political appointments opening at USDA. The group is focused on advocating for diverse staffing at every level at USDA, on Capitol Hill and within the broader industry. The group has received several inquiries from non-diverse industry members who are eager to work with them on programming and initiatives.
“Not only did we push out policy recommendations, we've pushed forward resumes of qualified, strong candidates who've served in administrations past, who served on Capitol Hill in key policy roles in agriculture and key roles in agribusiness” to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, he added.
Overall, the BPFA founders outlined five key objectives aimed at USDA.
- Diversity, inclusion, and equity in USDA political staffing;
- Diversity metrics for the Administration as it relates to political appointments at USDA;
- Diverse candidate slates and interview panels for all vacancies;
- Mandatory diversity and inclusion training; and
- Designation of a Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer who reports directly to the Secretary (or Deputy Secretary).
Gutter said that “we very much want to be supportive of a USDA that’s a welcome space; a USDA that is diverse and values equity and inclusion.” He previously worked at the agency in a variety of roles from 2009-2015.
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