Special Ambassadors

Estrella Penunia

Ms. Estrella Penunia, or Esther, as she is known to colleagues, is Secretary General of the Asian Farmers’ Association (AFA), a regional alliance of national farmers organizations or FOs in Asia. Established in 2002, AFA is currently composed of fifteen national FOs in twelve countries, representing around 12 million small-scale farmers (both women and men). 

AFA carries out programmes on policy advocacy, knowledge management, enterprise development and governance. It conducts activities related to policy information, analyses and campaigns as well as dialogues with decision makers, both at national and regional levels.

In addition, it provides technical and managerial support to member initiatives on farmer empowerment, organizational development and management, access to natural and production resources, sustainable agriculture, equity-led marketing and trading.  AFA likewise develops projects in these areas that are implemented in selected countries. 

As a social development worker, Esther spent more than three decades working in the field of rural development alongside farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples as a community organizer, participatory action researcher, trainer, gender advocate, consultant, campaigns coordinator, NGO executive/manager and networker.

Gerd Sonnleitner

Gerd Sonnleitner was born in 1948 in Lower Bavaria, a region in Southern Germany bordering with Austria and the Czech Republic. He grew up on his family farmstead situated in a village and still resides there to this day. Sonnleitner’s family farm has a long tradition and dates back to the 13th century. Since then it has been handed down from generation to generation. Sonnleitner is married and has two children. Sonnleitner has a degree as state-certified farmer and a master in agriculture.
From 1976 to 1984 he took over voluntary functions in the Bavarian Young Farmers’ Association and was actively engaged in the promotion of youth in agriculture.

From 1977 on Sonnleitner got active in the Bavarian Farmers’ Association and worked in different capacities at district and regional levels. From 1991 to 2012 he acted as President of the Bavarian Farmers’ Association (BBV).

In 1991 Sonnleitner became member of the Executive Committee of the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) and was later elected Vice-President and President (1997-2012).

Sonnleitner is also engaged on a European level and has been active in the European Farmers’ Association COPA from 1995. He was elected President twice.

Sonnleitner carries on advocating for the interests of farmers being Honorary President of COPA, DBV and BBV as well as through his engagement in the World Farmers’ Organisation. Furthermore, Sonnleitner is member of the board of directors and the supervisory bodies of institutions related to agriculture, forestry and nutrition.

Sonnleitner’s background as a family farmer as well as his professional experience on district, regional (sub-national), national, European and UN levels makes of him an authentic Ambassador for the International Year of Family Farming.


Ibrahima Coulibaly

A farmer, 48 years old, married and father of five children, Ibrahima Coulibaly works in the field of agricultural production (cereals, tree crops, livestock, market gardening, beekeeping).

Active in autonomous farmers’ organizations since the advent of democracy in Mali in March 1991, leader of the autonomous farmers’ movement from the very beginning, he has held office in farmers’ organizations at all levels (local, regional, national, sub-regional and international through the Network of Farmers' and Agricultural Producers' Organisations of West Africa [ROPPA] and Via Campesina).

Mr Coulibaly is currently President of the CNOP (National Coordination of Farmers’ Organizations of Mali), the national platform grouping the main federations of farmers’ organizations in the country. The CNOP is closely involved in agricultural policy issues and, under his direction, has overseen the formulation of Mali’s first agricultural policy through a framework law on agriculture which recognizes the principle of food sovereignty and the central role of family farming, the main form of production in Mali and the West Africa sub-region.

Under his leadership, the CNOP steered the organization of Nyéléni 2007, the first World Forum on Food Sovereignty which was held in Selingué, in Mali. Mr Coulibali is also managing the Nyéléni Agro-Ecology Training Centre.

Finally, he is Vice-President of ROPPA and is a member of the International Coordinating Committee of Via Campesina.


Mohamed Ould Saleck

Mohamed Ould Saleck is President of the southern area of the artisanal fisheries section of Mauritania's National Fisheries Federation (FNP) and founder of the African Confederation of Professional Artisanal Fisheries Organizations (CAOPA), which includes the following countries: Cape Verde, Côte-d'Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Between 1969 and 1975, Mohamed Ould Saleck worked for the Spanish fish processor Mauritanian Fish Industries (IMAPEC). He started as a fisherman and went on to become one of the few Mauritanian artisanal fishers to fish for green lobster along Mauritania’s northern coast, fisheries which for decades following the colonial era had been reserved exclusively for fishers from the French port of Douarnenez in Brittany and, more recently, for a few fishers from Guet N’Dar, a small town near St. Louis in Senegal.

Mohamed Ould Saleck has been appointed International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) Special Ambassador for North Africa and the Near East.


Myrna Kay Cunningham Kain

Ms. Cunningham Kain is an indigenous Miskita woman from the Waspam community, located on the banks of the Wangki River in Nicaragua. After studying to become a primary school teacher, she went back to Waspam to work as a teacher. She left her community once again to study medicine and surgery at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua, becoming the first female Miskita doctor.  She worked as a general practitioner and later as a surgeon at the Mission of the Moravian Church Hospital.  She also worked in the public health sector in the communities of Río Coco until 1979.

Ms. Cunningham Kain is President of the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI), which is an organization working in areas of intercultural communication, cultural revitalization, indigenous women’s rights, and climate change and its impact on indigenous communities. 

Dr. Myrna Cunningham was named Chair of the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues for the period 2011-2013.


Robert L. Carlson

Robert Carlson served as the first President of the World Farmers’ Organisation, WFO, from September 2011 until March 2014. He currently serves as Vice-President of International Relations for the National Farmers’ Union-USA. 

Carlson, a native of North Dakota, served as President of the North Dakota Farmers Union from January 1997 until November 2011 and as the organization’s Vice-President from 1987-1997. 

Much of Robert Carlson’s life has been devoted to family farm issues - as a farmer and as an advocate for family farmers.  Mr. Carlson worked with his father growing up on their North Dakota farm, homesteaded by his grandfather in 1900, where he raised his own sons farming the same land. It continues to be a family farm that today is owned and operated by two generations of the family growing grain and cattle.  The Carlsons are active members of the Farmers Union and of many cooperatives.  They consider farming to be the greatest work in the world and are committed to the future of the family farm as an economic and social base for rural society, the nation, and the world.

Carlson’s international experience is extensive, participating in agriculture visits and trade missions to numerous countries. He has represented family farm interests at world food summits and at international agricultural conferences on climate change and food security.  Carlson has participated in United Nations meetings in New York, World Trade Organization talks in Tokyo and Geneva, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and recently attended the COP19 in Warsaw always advocating for family farmers.