This is Part One of a ten-part series examining components of the National Food Strategy with insights provided by Garnet Etsell, former BCAC Chair and current Executive of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA). The full strategy framework can be viewed on CFA’s website.

If you would like to receive the rest of the NFS Insight Series through the BCAC Agvocate Update e-newsletter, sign up here.

Part 1: National Food Strategy - Mission Statement

“Canada will be a leader in providing safe and nutritious food through a vibrant, competitive, responsive and sustainable farming, processing, distribution and sales sector.”

Without a long-term mission the agricultural sector will simply drift and respond in short term reactionary moves. While some reactions may be appropriate, cumulatively much time and energy will be wasted and it is unlikely that we will reach our full potential. In June 2010 the Canadian Federation of Agriculture invited a cross section of the agri-food sector to come together to discuss the need for a long term strategy. The National Food Strategy (NFS) is what has evolved out of that, and subsequent discussions. The NFS is a framework which can be used as a basis for developing detailed plans around the nine Strategic Objectives, and can be used as a lens through which policy and program development can be evaluated.

It is expected that by 2020 there will only be a handful of countries in a position to produce more food than the country consumes – Canada is one of those. By 2050 the world’s population is expected to increase by 70% and food production will need to double. Canadian agriculture is in a very good position going forward. We have the resources – land, water, infrastructure, and capital. There is every reason to believe that we can be a leader in food production. Leadership does not just happen – it takes a concerted effort to be at the forefront. To be a leader we need to be long sighted in our views, proactive in our planning, and aggressive in our implementation. Canadians tend to be quite comfortable in a more passive following role. To become leaders will initially take us out of our comfort zone. The advantage of taking a leadership role is that we will have more control over our destiny.

Canada is known in the marketplace for its pristine environment and the commitment to follow through on what is agreed to. Both of these qualities stand us in good stead with respect to food. The marketplace does not just want fodder – it is demanding safe and nutritious food. It is imperative that we not only produce food, but that we produce food that the marketplace desires. In a word we need to be responsive. With our commitment to environmental stewardship, food safety, and animal welfare programs we are able to factually demonstrate to the marketplace that we do what we say we do, and the consumer can have confidence in the product we produce.

Operating in a northern climate of course results in some competitive constraints. It is imperative that we figure out ways to overcome such disadvantages, and recognize the advantages such as broken disease cycles that come with our seasonal and cool climate production. Research and more importantly commercialization of that research has played an important role in Canada’s past successes, and must continue to play a role in the future.

A long term view of our sector necessitates looking beyond one generation. Canadian farms are predominately family run operations and these farm families take the stewardship principle seriously. As such, sustainability must be a central component of any mission statement. Within the context of the NFS sustainability means:

* Economic sustainability
- participants in the food chain have a reasonable and equal opportunity to prosper

* Environmental sustainability
- the food system conserves, protects and regenerates resources
- the food chain is resilient to unpredictable climate and conditions

* Socially sustainable
- food is easily accessible and culturally appropriate

Historically, we have thought of the entire sector from a supply chain perspective (input supplier > primary production > processing > distribution > retail). This perspective tends to look at production first and then figure out how to push it through the chain. Today the view is tending towards a value chain perspective whereby we flip the supply chain over, and add the consumer to the front end, such that we figure out what the market place wants and then the chain works together to supply the demand. The Canadian Agriculture Policy Institute (CAPI) is working on another model that they call the Food System. The food system approach takes the value chain, but recognizes that within each commodity stream there are other players and stakeholders such as government, researchers, educational institutions, etc. Whatever model we subscribe to the point is that for a food strategy to be successful it must embody more than simply production.

If, collectively, we develop a food strategy framework that is responsive to the market place, and work towards ensuring that Canadian agriculture is competitive and sustainable we will have an exciting vibrant sector that will be rewarding to participate in. This is the focus of the National Food Strategy.