Across the country, extreme summer weather – including severe droughts, hail storms and rainfall – has combined with the coronavirus pandemic to take a serious toll on Canada’s agriculture, leaving many of Canada’s 270,000 farmers in crisis. The good news: solutions exist to make Canada’s food supply more resilient to both challenges.
That’s the message of the farmer-led coalition Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) in unveiling a call to action it says will help the Canadian agricultural sector weather short-term challenges posed by the pandemic and long-term challenges caused by accelerating climate change.
The group’s plan, entitled A Better Future Starts on the Farm: Recommendations for recovery from COVID-19 in Canadian agriculture, details five actions to protect Canada’s food supply.
“The pandemic has shed light on the need for a more resilient Canadian food supply in a sector that was already struggling with impacts of climate change. This growing season has been very difficult, and without a good plan, it could get worse,” said Arzeena Hamir, owner at Amara Farm. “Farmers are ready to take action to build a more resilient agricultural sector, but we can’t do this alone – we need decision-makers to act on our recommendations.”
While the Canadian government has been quick to respond by giving farmers increased access to credit and the option to defer debt repayment, the group says this type of short-term relief ultimately worsens the debt problem in agriculture. “Total farm debt in Canada is currently sitting at $115 billion, twice as much as 20 years ago. We can’t simply continue doing the same thing and that’s why farmers have come together to propose solutions,” adds Anastasia Fyk, fourth generation farmer at FFF Farms.
A recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) reveals that 48 per cent of farmers worry about the indebtedness of their business while 40 per cent are concerned that the “new normal” will threaten the sustainability of their business.
The group’s five recommendations for recovery in agriculture will help farmers protect and improve their livelihoods, increase resilience to climate change, lower emissions, and create green job opportunities in rural communities. They call for the following:
- Make farms green energy powerhouses - With the right incentives, farms can generate solar, wind and biogas energy from manure and crop waste. This increases and diversifies farmers’ revenue, supports the green economy, and creates net environmental benefits.
- Help innovative farmers act as mentors - Thousands of farmers across Canada are finding solutions to reduce their emissions and store more carbon in their soil, but they are limited in their capacity to share their experience across the sector. Supporting mentorship and farmer-to-farmer training programs is essential to help low-GHG climate-friendly practices spread.
- Provide incentives for climate-friendly farming - When farmers reduce their emissions, increase biodiversity and improve the health of their local environment, all Canadians benefit. Strong incentives must be created for farming practices that protect our climate and environment.
- Reward farmers who reduce their climate risk - The Canadian government already spends billions of dollars on crop insurance and risk reduction programs for farmers. Rather than only compensate farmers in the case of loss, these programs could also reward them for taking concrete steps to make their farms more resilient to climate change and reducing emissions.
- Support new and young farmers - The average age of Canadian farmers is 55, and COVID-19 exposed the vulnerabilities of a food system that depends largely on temporary foreign workers. Alongside increasing protections for these workers, Canada must remove barriers for young people to enter the profession. This is essential to ensure our future food supply, and is also a way of fostering innovation, as young farmers are some of the most progressive in the field, farming in a way that benefits the climate and environment.
Farmers for Climate Solutions invites all Canadians, farmers and non-farmers alike, to sign the pledge on their website at farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/take-action to show their support for these recommendations. “The recovery from the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to make our food system part of the solution to climate change, and to make Canadian farmers more resilient to the future shocks that are sure to come”, says Cedric MacLeod, Executive Director, Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association & President, Local Valley Beef. “Ultimately, this is about our food supply. This is everyone’s business.”
More information and photos can be found at https://farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/.
Anthony Côté Leduc
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