The word “agriculture” may not have made it into the text of the Paris climate agreement, but in Manitoba, climate change and agriculture have been appearing together a lot in recent days.
Only a few weeks ago the Manitoba government released its Climate Change and Green Economy Action Plan, and now Manitoba’s Green Party has put out a call for the creation of a localized food system as part of its own climate action plan.
“We know that we need to move towards sustainable agriculture,” said party leader, James Beddome. “And we know that organic agriculture and local agriculture, use less energy and produce less emissions.
“When we look at the average plate of food, most of what we eat has travelled 1,500 km or more, and we really think that’s not necessary; there is a lot of potential for us to produce more food locally,” he said.
Agriculture is currently responsible for 31 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the province. Transportation is responsible for another 39 per cent of greenhouses gases generated in Manitoba, a figure that includes the transportation of agricultural products and food.
Beddome said that moving away from chemically produced fertilizer, while simultaneously moving towards locally produced food would slash greenhouse gas emissions in the province significantly.
The Koch Fertilizer plant in Brandon has been identified as one of the largest — if not the largest — emitter of greenhouse gases in the province. Beddome said that reducing agriculture’s reliance on fertilizer would reduce emissions resulting from both fertilizer application and production.
But he does acknowledge that it’s not a change that can happen overnight. Moving to a local food system would require rethinking how agriculture fits into our economy and our lives.
“We are so export oriented, that a lot of our major commodities we produce here, aren’t actually consumable for us. Manitoba quite frankly sells a lot of canola and a lot of baby piglets, but neither of those create something that’s readily available as food on its own,” Beddome said. “Why does our garlic come from China? We can grow garlic perfectly fine here in Manitoba.”
Highly critical of the current government’s plan to introduce a cap-and-trade system for carbon, the leader also called for a carbon tax of $50 per tonne of emissions. It’s a tax that the Green Party would use in part to fund farmers as they transition away from conventional farming, he said.
“That transition period can be a challenge, so we need to work with farmers and find a way to asset with that, to help them transition over. It would mean a much more robust and a much safer food system,” said Beddome, adding that temporary programming and pilot projects aren’t adequate.
Long-term predictable funding is needed, he stressed, adding that that long-term funding could easily be funded by a carbon tax.
“I know there are going to be some farmers out there who are going to be grumbling, but our plan is to put a price on greenhouse-based emissions,” Beddome said.