The new Canadian Agricultural Partnership: Dancing to the same old tune?

The federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) ministers of agriculture met last month to discuss and agree on the key priorities of the next Agricultural Policy Framework (APF), now being called the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, set to replace Growing Forward 2 in April of 2018. With its guiding vision of “Innovate, Grow, Prosper”, the framework unfortunately appears to be following the same path as previous policy frameworks, founded in an export-oriented growth imperative that assumes when it comes to the future of Canadian agriculture, bigger is necessarily better. While the announcement to undertake a significant review of the Business Risk Management Programs is a welcome step, overall the communique left much to be desired in terms of addressing the key challenges facing Canadian farmers and our food system as a whole. 

The six priority areas from the Calgary Statement have remained largely the same. If anything, there appears to be an increased emphasis on exports and technology as innovation. For instance, while the Calgary Statement made specific reference to both domestic and international markets, the communique from the FPT ministers meeting last week contains no such reference. Instead the statement noted that the FPT meeting included a “specific focus” on the $1.2-billion Strategic Innovation Fund, which will provide matching funds to create so-called super-clusters of innovation in agriculture. Here, innovation appears to be largely limited to technology and the commercialization of research. 

Improving the existing Business Risk Management Programs is certainly needed. We hope that as part of this review process, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada will consider expanding the concept to Risk Management to include things like crop diversity, seed saving, transition to ecological production practices and peer-to-peer farm mentoring. As USC Canada notes, “Planting a diversity of crop varieties together is a risk management strategy that makes a farm more resilient to environmental stresses. Selecting, saving and replanting seeds year after year also allows varieties to continue evolving, adapting to local conditions as they change.”

It was encouraging to see that ministers discussed ways to strengthen Indigenous agriculture in Canada, in particular recognizing the importance of working with Indigenous leadership and existing programs and initiatives within Indigenous communities that are working to strengthen Indigenous food systems and food sovereignty. Another positive sign was the presentation ministers received on the labour challenges facing Canadian farmers. However, there was no indication of how these challenges would be addressed within the next APF, and in particular, of how governments can better protect the rights and improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers. 

Meanwhile, two other recent reports on the state of Canadian agriculture paint a very different picture of Canada's food system and suggest a different way forward. On the heels of the ministers’ meeting in St. John’s, the Canadian Organic Trade Association published the first ever State of Organics: Federal-Provincial-Territorial Performance Report. Despite the “double-digit growth” of the industry, the report argues that organic producers continue to face a complex policy environment that varies considerably from province to province. This results in a patchwork of uneven regulation and levels of support for both organic farmers and for those looking to transition to organic production. The report also notes the lack of data on organic agriculture as an impediment to further development of the sector.

Parallel to these conversations at the national level, the Ontario government is in the midst of a consultation process entitled Farms Forever, on the future of agriculture in the province.  Sustain Ontario’s New Farmers Working Group drafted a set of recommendations on how the province can better support new farmers, drawing much needed attention to the importance of all levels of government engaging in proactive farm renewal strategies. Their recommendations include sustained and core funding to regional organizations that provide training and support to new farmers, the development of a New Farmer brand to direct new farmers to government assistance and the establishment of a New Farmer Advisory Committee.

Food Secure Canada, alongside numerous other organizations, has been calling for a significant and substantial focus on farm renewal in the next APF. More support is needed to support new entrants looking to establish careers in agriculture and to ease the transition for older farmers looking to retire and protect the integrity of their farm. This is not just a question of financial support, though that is part of it. It is also about changing the policy landscape to better recognize the diversity of farms and farmers. As the federal government moves forward on both of these policy initiatives, the big questions are how the Canadian Agricultural Partnership will relate to A Food Policy for Canada and how these initiatives will work together to address the pressing challenges facing new farmers.

With many of the details yet to be determined, we encourage Food Secure Canada members and allies to contact their Member of Parliament, members of the House of Commons Agriculture Committee and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to share their priorities for Canadian agriculture within the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and A Food Policy for Canada. You can also join the conversation on social media using #CdnAgPartnership and #FoodPolicy4Canada.

Want to do more? Check out Food Secure Canada’s Five Big Ideas for a Better Food System and resources on organizing a community engagement event on shaping Canada’s food future.  

Amanda Wilson is a PostDoctoral Fellow at Lakehead University, working with Food Secure Canada on agri-food policy and community-academic collaboration.  

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