The final part in a three part series discussing the many issues around Canada’s critical role in global and national food security.
Sustainability, Environment, and the Strategic Farmer ~ Speakers: Diane Knight and Jeff Schoenau, University of Saskatchewan.
The current discourse on climate change in reference to food security is on the effects of a changing environment on agriculture and the possible consequences for global and regional food security. The responsibility of scholars of all interested disciplines is to alter the conversation to include the essential ingredient of how agriculture and related activities impacts environmental change. For example, the fifty-year transition from family-to-industrial-based agriculture has placed greater pressure on inputs of fossil-fuel energy, water, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, all of which have negatively and significantly altered our air, soil, water and biodiversity.
Therefore, the role that sustainable farming is playing and can potentially play, both nationally and globally, is critical to considering as it as a viable form of agriculture. While sustainable agricultural practices are publically viewed as an eco-friendly alternative to modern agriculture for its emphasis on local production and consumption and its use of less chemicals and fossil-fuels, it has yet to meet its greatest challenge: practicality. Food security requires making food available on a large scale and yet the popularity of small-range organic methods is growing.
The support for local and small-range farming is supported by a romantic idea within the sustainable community that tends to look at farming techniques in isolation from greater issues, such as food security. The groups who support and consume organic produce also tend to be those with little to no food access issues and who can therefore enjoy the luxury of being concerned about production methodology. Within such public admiration for sustainable production lie misconceptions of what exactly organic farming entails and the limits to what it can achieve; which have developed out of the history of the sustainable food movement being rooted not in agriculture, but in political and philosophical ideologies that may not fully grasp the full complexity of food security and the challenges to be faced in the next fifty years. A strong example of the kind of problem arising from such misunderstandings is over-tillage. It is used a great deal in organic farming because it can greatly reduce the need for pesticides in the short term, however; it drastically reduces soil fertility and nutrient content in the long term.
The discourse of the Saskatoon forum circulated through the issues raised thus far, but kept returning to the point of the lack of funding being linked to public misunderstanding or lack of understanding of how food security is tied to regional, national and global economic, social, political and climactic forces.
Food sovereignty will become a source for increasing tensions within and amongst world nations. Even Canada, with its high food production levels has an economy that currently exports more than it keeps; a fact that may not sit well with an ever-increasing population. This problem is not being faced at any level of government and research into a solution is not being funded. Canada is thus heading for an equal level of food security crisis as those war-torn countries Canadians may presently feel are tragic, but distant. It would thus seem that the main goal of potential researchers is to maximize funding sources through working across disciplines, and to include a strong component of public outreach, that may include cultural programs based in artistic productions (plays or fictional stories based on facts, for example) that will help to alter public perception of agriculture in today’s society, as well as the next fifty years.
The arts and humanities areas of research need to be tapped for their expertise in language, rhetoric, and the basis of public perceptions of agriculture and food security in Canada. Philosophers, rhetoricians, sociologists and psychologists can contribute to how the shift in hegemonic ideology of agriculture in society can be approached.
Scientists need the help of other disciplines to develop and communicate the shift in philosophy and rhetoric towards agriculture that is required to garner public trust in that philosophy altering public policy. The arts and humanities can also help bridge the disconnect between the reality of the immediate need to increase food production and the regulation (amount, source) of needed funding to support that work.
The final word on food security is that it is a problem of global, as well as local proportions. While safe access to nutritious food is a challenge most commonly associated with war-torn regions and those areas of the world facing the ravages of climactic and natural disasters, people in Canada that face issues of food security as well. It is therefore imperative that professionals and academics working within and beyond the arena of food security find a way to deepen public understanding of the complexity of food security and its ramifications for global relations, local economies, and the future state of humanity on a planet undergoing significant climactic change. In order to do so, the specialists need to work to find a common ground upon which such an imperative might be met.
The two-part symposium is addressing that exact problem by bringing together those who work in a variety of disciplines that range across the physical, biological and socio-economic sciences and all interact with food security, yet do not necessarily interact with one another. It is a first step in meeting the mounting pressure for food security coming from a variety of aid organizations around the world.
An Array of Future Questions!
The scholarly discussion is therefore moving forward in a variety of directions and looking not only towards the Guelph Forum in February 2014, but beyond. At the final luncheon in Saskatoon the following questions were raised (and have been grouped by topic area) as critical to the ongoing conversation:
Food Sources: Does Canada and the world need to re-consider the types of foods we rely upon? Is the reliance on animal agriculture as a high value food product unsustainable in the long run? What role should legumes and pulses play in future food security as it relates to human health and nutrition levels?
Funding and the Federal Government Where does GMO safety fit in? How can agriculture become restored on the federal government priority list? How can scholars create proposals for funding that meet the standards of goal achievement? How can researchers help politicians create policies that support and drive towards desired goals? How do scholars work to make scientific evidence play a more critical role in government thinking and decision-making? How can regulation policy and actions help the food security crisis leading up to 2050 and beyond?
Hegemonic Language, Rhetoric, Philosophy How can science best utilize the arts and humanities in the quest to change public perceptions of farming, food security and agribusiness?
Natural and Agricultural Resource Management What role do recycling and the export of nutrients play in food security policy? Example: When Canada increases food and other bio production for export the country loses nutrients that we need to be recycling at home. What does a balanced approach look like in environmental and agricultural resource management? What is the impact of food production on the environment and quality of living and what does it mean for the efficiency of immediate growth of productivity and land use management? What about the conflict between biomass and food production levels? Can a comparative analysis with agri-forestry help in creating sustainable large-scale farming methods?
Populations projections What happens after 2050, if populations continue to increase at projected rates? Are the population projections accurate? What if they change? What can change them?
Water Can aquaculture contribute significantly to a sustainable food supply? How will Canada resolve the increasing conflict over resources between economic powerhouse industries such as agriculture and mining? How will an overall reduction in water quality, both in Canada and around the world to be addressed in any long-term food security plan? How is such a reduction to be prevented? How does Canada balance the demand for water and other natural resources between the need for food production with the need to produce other bio-products such as potash?