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National Food Strategy – Why?

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Introduction

Why do we need a National Food Strategy? What distinguishes a National Food Strategy from the five year agreements that we have had?

The Agricultural Policy Framework and its successor Growing Forward have fundamentally been fiscal budgeting tools. As such they have consisted of budgeting envelopes, with some strategy attached. Associated with these five year plans we have had Vision Statements. The strategy, if we can call it that, to achieve the vision has been broken down into very broad chapters with the biggest one being Risk Management.

If you were to ask somebody what Canada’s Strategy for Agriculture for the next 25 years is, how would they respond? What role does Canadian Agriculture have to contribute to the well being of individuals both within and outside of Canada with respect to food security, adaptation to climate change, access to healthy food, environmental enhancement and production of renewable resources?

We have in our current agreement mistaken programming for goals and so we have targeted dollars within a suite of programs that must be spent within a specified period of time, but to what end? It is hoped that the programs will result in the successful achievement of the Vision. The result of this focus on programming, versus results and achieving a vision, is that we are unclear as to what the objectives are and the spending is not strategic.

What are the emerging trends that will have an impact on Canadian agriculture?


International Trends

- World population and caloric intake expected to grow dramatically by 2050.
- Emerging demand for Bio-fuels and Bio-products will also drive the need for increased productivity on agricultural land.
- Changing climatic conditions are predicted to cause shifting patterns for rainfall, temperature and extreme weather events. Agricultural regions will need to adapt to these changing conditions but even with this adaptation there will likely be the need for more trade between have and have not regions.
- Concern about raising carbon levels in the atmosphere, and depleting fossil fuel reserves, will create markets for renewable and sustainable energy sources.
- Government deficits are at historic levels internationally. Over time there may be a shift in funding priorities.
- Conflict will continue to exist between the use of new technologies to increase productivity in order to keep prices affordable and concern about the use of these technologies. (GMO, pesticide use, storage technology)
- Post recession protectionism could create an atmosphere where artificial barriers will restrict movement of goods.
- Many countries are looking at food security from a domestic perspective – there is an opportunity for Canada to lead in addressing food security from a world perspective


Domestic Trends

- Changing demographics will alter food consumption patterns. Ethnic diversity and an increase in the average age of Canadians will create new markets.
- Increased support for bio-energy
- Energy costs, and carbon footprint, will have an impact on transportation costs of imported food enhancing the competitiveness of domestic production.
- Niche markets will continue to capture a portion of Canadian food production however price will still be a strong determinant of purchasing preference.
- There is a stated desire of consumers to try and purchase locally produced products.
- Canadian agricultural land is not predicted to be effected as adversely by climate change as agricultural land in other regions.
- Canadian consumers have been more accepting of new technologies than consumers in other countries. These consumers, in spite of some recent examples where trust of the regulatory and inspection systems was put to the test, still have a high level of confidence in the system.
- Canadian agriculture will continue to have the capacity to produce far more than we can consume as a country

What are the opportunities?

- Niche market /buy local will create value added markets for a segment of agricultural producers.
- Changing demographics will create new markets for non-conventional crops.
- Drive to reduce carbon footprint will encourage farmers to adopt new technologies and markets will be created for renewable energy crops.
- A growing world population and the impact of climate change on other regions will create new markets for Canadian products.
- Genomics, plant science, improved equipment design, use of GPS technology will be tools used to keep Canadian producers competitive.
- Consumers are looking at other values that farmers can help provide. Clean water, clean air and habitat protection are some of these values.
- Agriculture has the potential to create jobs at the primary, processing, distribution and retail level. Many of these jobs will be in rural communities

What are the issues that need to be addressed if we are to capture these opportunities?

- Low profit margins over the last number of years have lowered the equity of Canadian producers. This low profitability also discourages young producers from entering the industry.
- Existing farm support programs have not responded appropriately to address chronic margin declines of producers.
- Public funding for agriculture research has declined as a percentage of agricultural GDP needs.
- There is no coordinated Canada brand that has been marketed both domestically and internationally.
- The Canadian regulatory framework at the federal, provincial and municipal level has not been outcome based and has at time created a cost barrier to Canadian agriculture producers.
- The agriculture sector in Canada is segmented. Cooperation through the value chain has not been widespread.
- Payments for environmental type initiatives in Canada have not been a high priority. Payments for ecological goods and services have only been done through local initiatives or through pilot projects.
- Government industry relationship has often been issue based. Ongoing partnership between government and industry has not been formalized.

What are the types of actions that need to be taken to help reposition agriculture?

- Establish a mechanism to ensure improved producer, processor and retailer involvement with policy and decision making. A culture must be developed which fosters collaboration between partners to ensure overall sustainability.
- Review of all food industry regulations to ensure that they are effective and do not create competitive barriers. (Product of Canada labelling, Specified Risk Material removal in slaughter plants)
- Investigate the establishment of an ecological goods and services program to help meet environmental objectives.
- In partnership with industry develop and market a Canadian agricultural brand that can be used to promote domestic consumption and export sales.
- Develop in conjunction with this Canadian brand a comprehensive strategy to capture emerging markets on both the domestic and international front.
- Set clear objective for farm support programs, review existing programs to evaluate effectiveness and design replacement programs that will contribute to the overall agricultural strategy.
- Reinvest in research. This research needs to broad ranging. Pure science, applied technology, extension work and market analysis will all be needed to capture new markets.

Conclusion

As the world’s surplus productive capacity is challenged through climate change, disease, population increase, war, and depleting fossil fuel reserves food security on a global level will become a critical issue. Herein lies one of Canada’s great comparative strengths – our bountiful resources (land, water, energy, people and capital).

Given the changes anticipated we cannot assume that today’s resources will be the same as tomorrow’s. However, with proper management and strategic investment Canada could be positioned to be a major contributor to the world’s food and renewable resource needs.

We have to be able to get from today’s situation, where globally we have a relatively large surplus productive capacity, to sometime in the not too distant future where food sustainability will be an issue, hence, the need for a National Food Strategy. The strategy is required to ensure that we have a vibrant contributing agriculture sector in Canada.
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