Canadians appear to agree it’s time to head down a new path in the agri-food sector, but how to set forth and who’ll take the lead remain key questions.
In February the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) releasedCanada’s Agri-Food Destination: A New Strategic Approacha report, pointing out rough terrain ahead if, as a leading world food supplier, Canada’s agricultural and agri-food sectors continue to fall behind due to lagging profitability, missed opportunities and declining relevance.
The report was also a road map, calling out for a more collaborative and inclusive “systems approach” or fundamental shift in thinking about policy and practice in the agri-food sector.
CAPI took the report on the road this spring to gauge reaction, making some 50 presentations to over 800 stakeholders including government and nongovernmental organizations across a wide range of sectors including, health, the environment, and financial services.
Much of the feedback supports the report’s call for a joining of the dots between agriculture and food policy, according to David McInnes, CAPI president and CEO. Many stakeholders believe it’s time Canada had an agri-food plan.
“What I’ve found fascinating about the discussion that we’ve had across the country is that people want a new approach,” he said. “They’re ready for it.”
Stakeholders are also intrigued by the potential a more intensive collaboration within the agrifood sector and with other key partners has to accelerate innovation, expand market opportunities, and address rising societal expectations around food.
Where questions remain is how to achieve that collaboration.
“A broad number of stakeholders wants to better understand the operational details of the report’s ideas,” a CAPI update released last month says.
Others say “what success looks like” must be more clearly defined and caution against creating new processes that only reinforce existing behaviours.
MORE CLEARLY DEFINED
There’s also need for champions and someone “to lead and just define the path,” the update reports.
Predictably, there’s also lack of buy-in. Some stakeholders prefer the status quo, believing that agri-food policy should largely focus on producers.
“A number of people in production agriculture don’t see the need, for example, to change business risk management programs,” McInnes said.
Canada’s Agri-Food Destination report is suggesting that government spending in agriculture be gradually shifted away from direct supports to producers and put towards increased funding for research.
Specific targets the report aims to achieve by 2025 include doubling the dollar value of the country’s agri-food exports (to $75 billion from the current 38.8 billion); producing and supplying 75 per cent of our domestic food needs (up from 68 per cent now); and generating revenue and efficiency by relying on biomaterials and biofuels in 75 per cent of the agri-food sector.
McInnes said CAPI will continue gauging reaction to its report as it pursues further research to more clearly define and clarify its concepts.
Meanwhile, those who can already see the vision within it, need to forge ahead.
“I think we need to find champions to stand up and say ‘we have an incredible opportunity in this country,’” he said. “I hope we can start shifting to that because we need to move forward.”
CAPI’s initial report calling for linking agriculture and health policy to tackling Canada’s dual health care and farm income crisis was released in the summer of 2009.
Since then others have joined the march.
The Conference Board of Canada last month released the first of a series of reports examining the demand-and supply-driven trends affecting Canada’s food sector.
LOTS OF INTEREST
Last winter, Food Secure Canada tabledThe People’s Food Policy Project,produced by groups within the country’s expanding food movement and calling for the creation of nationwide food policy that emphasizes domestic food systems, and strategies for the retention of farmers.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is expected to release a national food strategy later this year.
“WhatI’vefound fascinatingabout thediscussionthat we’vehadacrossthe countryisthatpeople wantanewapproach. They’rereadyforit.”
– DAVID MCINNES, CANADIAN AGRI-FOOD POLICY INSTITUTE PRESIDENT AND CEO