Plans for national or provincial food strategies have become hot commodities in recent years. In addition to the CFFO’s Goals for an Ontario Food Strategy, other farm groups and think-tanks have either issued reports or are in the development stages.
A new report from the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute is the latest foray into this marketplace of ideas. Entitled Canada’s Agri-Food Destination, the report highlights growing problems for Canadian agriculture. In addition to falling behind in food exports, the report notes that Canada is now seeing food imports rise, all at a time when great market opportunities are arising at home and around the globe.
At the heart of Canada’s problems, a paraphrase of the report would suggest, is an antiquated set of short-term strategies to help farmers, processors and sellers create growth in their industry. Instead, the report argues that success will only come from a long-term planning strategy that views the entire industry as a “system” that needs coordination and integration regarding its various parts.
The Institute’s Report also creates some ambitious targets. It says that if appropriate changes are pursued, Canada’s agri-food sector could see substantial growth by 2025. It sees the dollar value of Canadian agri-food exports doubling to $75 billion, domestic production and supply of Canadian food rising to 75 per cent from the current 68 per cent, and to have over 75 per cent of the entire sector relying on biomaterials and biofuels to help develop revenue or reduce costs.
Although the positive tone of the Institute’s report is to be commended, I’m sure that I can find more than one farmer who casts a jaundiced eye towards the goal of ramping up exports. Some people have long memories of both positive and negative experiences in supplying export markets and will want to see sustainable opportunities. And farmers have also had a long history of being wary of talk about integrating into systems that may or may not give them adequate clout in the marketplace. But the Institute’s interest in promoting a strategy for agriculture is bang on, despite my quibbles.
Given the increase in the number of reports calling for either provincial or national food strategies, it’s evident that the status quo isn’t delivering on what many people see as Canada’s potential for food production and profitability. Maybe the cumulative weight of all those reports and strategies will eventually convince enough politicians that we can move forward to make an already good agricultural system into one that is even better.
John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.