3 – Open Letter – Food Sovereignty
21 January 2009
Mr. Brian Murphy – MP (Murphy.B@parl.gc.ca)
1. Thank you for the invitation to the e-summit on Food and Food security in Moncton 23 February 2009. Although I am unable to attend, I submit a few of my thoughts.
2. First, I would like to outline why I believe that food is an important issue requiring long term planning and commitment from all stakeholders. There are currently about six billion people in the world who generate a huge global demand for food. As the planet warms and the population continues to grow two things will happen: first, it will become more challenging to grow food and second, there will be a bigger demand for food (and water). To put this into perspective, New Brunswick produces approximately 15% of the food it consumes. Just to meet our own needs we have to reverse the erosion of our farm communities and agriculture sector. I call this problem food sovereignty.
3. There exists a sleeping giant in Canada’s food production and processing industries. In particular, with grocery store shelves overflowing with food less and less of this food is grown in Canada. This, coupled with a reduction of family spending on food (from 40% of disposable income several decades ago to less than 10% today) is resulting in a massive degradation of our ability to grow, process and distribute our own food. Despite no outward signs (like food shortages or significant price inflation) Canadian farmers are closing in on a critical milestone; retirement. According to the 2006 census, farmers are older than their counterparts in every other occupation, the median age being 51 years old, 10 years older than their non-farming counterparts. You are likely aware that the number of Canadian farms has been steadily decreasing.
4. Although it would be impossible to identify all of the issues that contribute to the demise of so many farms, there is one common problem that must be reversed. Farming does not provide an equitable living to other occupations in Canada. This has resulted in a major exodus of young people from many farm communities and discourages new entrants.
5. Food plays an important part of national security, the health of Canadians and social stability. The following must change to make farming a viable occupation for young people:
a. Image. Farmers must develop a positive image. Often portrayed as polluters of the environment and spenders of tax dollars it is no wonder young people have become detached from their food. Despite making up approximately 2% of the population, farmers bring a lot of value to Canadian society; they are excellent citizens. For a better understanding of why farmers still exist despite the fiscal and social challenges they face, check the following link: New Holland Farmer’s Creed;
b. Marketing. By working together farmers can gain more leverage in the market place, resulting in better profit. This applies to farmer’s markets, the wholesale industry and everything in between. I consider marketing the key to success of Canadian farms. Ultimately, marketing enables the consumer to determine which farms live and which die;
c. Imported Food. As the price of “farm inputs” increases, Canadian grown food will become even more expensive to produce than imported food. We live in a cold climate with a short growing season that drives up our cost of production. If we allow imported food to take the place of Canadian food, we will lose our production and processing capacities and will rely on imports that are outside of our control. We need to re-visit our food inspection policy to align it with the need for safe and tested food. Imported food should be grown to the same standards Health Canada deems essential for Canadian producers. Labelling regulations are a major stumbling block. Fair trade principles and acceptable environmental practices should be part of our labelling laws. In short, we need to change the way we import food to ensure it is safe and consumers have the information they need to make responsible choices;
d. Resources. Change in the agriculture sector must be led by industry while government investment should be knowledge based. There needs to be improved agriculture education programs and a re-investment into departments of agriculture. Farmers need professional and timely field (extension) agents, access to better lab and business services. In many cases there are resources available to help farmers, but, the farmers are unable to find them. Farmers need to spend their time on their farm getting the work done; and
e. Small Farms. We need to continue to improve the environmental impact of farming. Small diverse farms are often more environmentally friendly than larger agribusiness. Furthermore, small farms are more practical modes of entry for new and young farmers without the assets or experience required to manage larger operations. Encouraging small farms provides entry level opportunities, improves the environment, engages more consumers through direct marketing and generates a more robust agriculture sector better able to deal with pests, weather events and financial instability.
6. Although I know little of how Quebec has developed their agriculture industry, from the outside looking in, they seem to have an effective system. Norway, which is further north than most of Canada, is focussed on becoming a net exporter of food. Canada needs to look at examples of success both in Canada and abroad to determine what works and what does not.
7. Considering the forecasted and long term food crisis, Canada is poised to either be a net food importer or net food provider. Lets be a food provider.