A National Food Strategy is required to ensure that we have a vibrant contributing agriculture sector in Canada.
As the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) celebrates its 75th anniversary, the future of Canadian agriculture is at a crossroads and the future of food in this country is uncharted. Currently, Canada has no comprehensive strategy for agriculture and food production in the future. A Canadian agricultural strategy is necessary for building the future of Canadian agriculture.
For our industry and food supply to be sustainable, farmers must address three aspects: economic, environmental, and social. Sustainability is sometimes confused with maintenance of current levels of production. However, it refers to producing food and other renewable products in a manner that is economically viable, environmentally enhancing, and contributes to the social fabric of this planet. Sustainable production should constantly be improving our food supply and enhancing our lifestyle, ensur ing that our environment and resources to produce are adequate, and that the industry has a firm economic foundation. Sustainability requires that a strategic plan be in place.
Canada does not have a food strategy. We have a myriad of disjointed policies and programs. Too often, the belief that farming and food production will always be there leads to a lack of coordinated and functional agricultural policies. There is no particular objective, no vision and no stated intention of the programs.
In our age of global instability, a nation should have a strategy to ensure its citizens will have food tomorrow and beyond. Canada needs to develop a strategy that will focus on and create a demand, both domestically and internationally, for high-quality Canadian product.
Why do we need a National Food Strategy and what distinguishes a National Food Strategy from the five-year agreements that we have had? The Agricultural Policy Framework and its successor Growing Forward have fundamentally been fiscal budgeting tools. As such they have consisted of budgeting envelopes, with some Vision Statements attached. It is hoped that the programs will result in the successful achievement of the vision. A National Food Strategy is required to ensure that we have a vibrant contributing agriculture sector in Canada.
The CFA and its members will be embarking on a campaign to motivate development of a Nat ional Food Strategy and Canadian Agricultural Policy. The strategy will be led by farm organizations in collaboration with government, consumers, food processors and distributors. It is critical that producers and farm organizations participate and take an interest in the development of this strategy, and demand that it happens.
The role of the CFA is to interface with government at the national level, and other farm organizations and governments at the international level. Agriculture in Canada is a shared jurisdiction – provincial and federal. Much of our input into strategy development must happen at the provincial level through our members.
In Canada, we produce over 250 commodities and almost each has its own organization. Commodity organizations are the root industry organizations and focus on commodity specific issues. Because of the shared jurisdiction in Canada, most major commodities have a need for both provincial and national organizations. It is critical that producers and organizations participate in the process. The CFA needs farmers to engage through their organizat ion, and to urge governments to listen to the farm organizations.
Producers are the apex of this inverted pyramid. If not for farmers, there would be no need for these organizations. It is very much a symbiot ic relationship. If organizations are doing their job, the producer’s message will be heard. For the message to be heard, producers need to actively participate and support the process and their commodity and regional organizations.
Farmers must acknowledge that agriculture is a business. The purpose of a business is to undertake some activity that will generate a profit. It clearly is the business owner’s responsibility to develop a strategy to generate a sustainable profit. It is essential that producers have the tools available to develop and implement the strategy.
The role of governments should be to facilitate, regulate domestic production, regulate foreign imports, negotiate international agreements, facilitate international market opportunities and intelligence, and create an environment that encourages investment.
There can be a bright future for agriculture. Canada needs to develop an agr icultural strategy for Canada that our nation, provinces, consumers, agribusiness and producers can participate in, and that will create a healthier, environmentally sound and more economically stable nation.
Garnet Etsell is second vice-president of the Canadian
Federation of Agriculture