Farming More with Less

Ron Bonnett on why Canada needs a long-term National Food Strategy.
By: /
April 5, 2013

By 2050, there will be almost three billion people added to the world’s already bulging population of 6.5 billion people. Global food output will have to increase by 70 per cent. The pressure on land continues to grow–urbanization, erosion and climate change are all factors. By 2020, Canada will be one of only six countries worldwide producing a food surplus to feed a growing global population, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Worldwide, agriculture and food supply are at a critical juncture.

The urgent necessity to maintain a sustainable global food supply has captured the attention of media, governments around the world, the United Nations, consumers, and farmers alike.

Moreover, diets around the world are changing. Canada is becoming more ethnically diverse and internationally, emerging economies and expanding middle classes are demanding more varied protein.

There is a general understanding that this is not just about agriculture – its about our food, fuel and fibre needs. And the solution must be comprehensive, taking in environmental, social, and economic concerns. So, where do we start? As a resource rich nation, Canada faces a huge challenge and responsibility, as well as an incredible opportunity.

Agricultural policy is currently developed within five-year budgetary cycles. This is short-sighted and severely limits Canada’s ability to adequately plan for constantly evolving contexts. A holistic and strategic approach to policies and programs for food and agriculture is necessary. The agriculture and agri-food industry have worked together towards finding broader solutions for the value-chain, taking into account everything from promoting the Canadian brand and healthy lifestyles to sustaining economic growth and ecosystems.

The industry-led National Food Strategy (NFS) focuses on the long-term, recognizing that short-term, band-aid solutions are not enough for the lasting and evolving challenges we face today and those we will face tomorrow. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) has worked with players from across the food system in developing the NFS, as well as with organizations working on similar projects, like the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

Key to any such long-term plan is attracting and retaining new entrants to agriculture. The average age of farmers is at a record high of 54 years, and it is likely that nearly one-quarter of all farmers will be retiring in the next ten years.  We need to establish the next generation of farmers to keep Canadian food in domestic and international markets, while keeping farms in Canadian hands. Access to technology; proper infrastructure; facilitating farm transfers; and dealing with increasing farm land values are all means to this end and should be addressed in a food strategy developed and agreed upon by both industry and government.

If we as a sector and our government address these issues and opportunities in a proper and timely manner, we can create a future that brings our sons and daughters back to the farm, and positions Canada and the Canadian brand as a leader in agri-sector innovation, as well as a provider of solutions for sustainability and the food supply challenge.

This piece is part of an OpenCanada-Conference Board collaboration in advance of the Conference Board's upcoming 2nd Canadian Food Summit: From Challenges to Solutions.