• Glauce Fleury

Rethinking agriculture for a more sustainable planet


Photo: Pixabay/Henry Gartley

To build a post-COVID-19 future that is more sustainable, the United Nations is calling for governments to rethink how agriculture is subsidized, as indicated in their September 2021 report. Currently, 87 per cent of US$540 billion of support to producers includes “measures that are often inefficient, inequitable, distort food prices, hurt people’s health, and degrade the environment.” It’s crucial to reflect on the link between the UN report, subsidies in Canada, and the pandemic’s impact. The Canadian Agricultural Partnership — a suite of programs jointly funded by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments — is a $3-billion five-year (2018-2023) investment in agriculture and agri-food aiming to strengthen and grow the sector. But according to Statistics Canada, almost one in seven residents reported food insecurity early in the pandemic. Food bank visits have increased by 20 per cent since 2019. Spikes coincided with the ending of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), continuation of lockdowns, and unemployment, notes a Food Banks Canada report.

On its website, the federal government states that a wide range of actions have been taken to address food system issues, but around one million Canadian households are unable to access healthy food. That may surprise many, as we live in a developed country that is a member of G7 — the group of the most advanced economies that help shape global progress. We have resources and knowledge to find solutions. So, to better understand and address the linkages and decision-making within food systems, Canada has been working on its first-ever national food policy.

Consultations happened from 2017 to 2019, and an advisory council has been created to help implement the policy. Highlights of their meetings have been made available on the government website, so stay updated. Another way to contribute that only depends on you is to reduce the carbon footprint of your meals. Keep learning about food systems, as you can still share your thoughts with the government at FoodPolicy-PolitiqueAlimentaire@canada.ca. ENDING POVERTY Learning about food systems is key because they impact human health and the environment. The UN call for repurposing agricultural support — issued jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — aims to achieve more of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals represent an urgent global call to end poverty by implementing strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and boost the economy while addressing climate change and preserving oceans and forests. When discussing food systems, we need to reflect on methods used by industrial agriculture — the large-scale, intensive production of crops and animals. Many foods we buy at grocery stores (meat, dairy, eggs, fruits, and vegetables) are produced under those methods, which may involve using chemical fertilizers on crops and antibiotics in animals. Consequences include soil depletion and erosion, water pollution, increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and pesticide overuse. Although there are many sources of GHG emissions worldwide, agriculture is one of the main contributors to climate change, highlights UNEP. In a way, we’re all responsible; however, we can choose to reduce the carbon footprint of our meals and create a ripple of positive impacts. That means doing more than just buying local, since transportation makes up a small amount of emissions from food. Instead, what we should consider is how much land and which farming methods are being used to produce what we plan to buy before we actually buy it.

WOMEN AND OTHER SMALLHOLDERS

Efficient farming looks beyond production. It’s also about environmental sustainability, public health, and economic inclusivity. Agriculture and agri-food systems are critical to help end poverty and hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and reduce inequality. But as it currently is, the financial support to industrial producers around the globe is a barrier to achieving the SDGs and the targets of the Paris Agreement.

Rethinking how industrial agriculture is subsidized is urgent because, besides being biased towards measures that harm nature, climate, nutrition, and health, the current support is disadvantaging women and other smallholders, says the UN report. Considering that farming is responsible for about 75 per cent of the world’s freshwater use and a quarter of GHG emissions, becoming better informed about food systems can help ensure our voices are heard when changes arise.

Originally written for Una Terra.