COVID-19 has exposed serious vulnerabilities in food security at home and abroad, warns Green MP Manly

April 23, 2020

NANAIMO – Green Party caucus critic for agriculture and agri-food, Paul Manly (MP, Nanaimo-Ladysmith) warns that food security both at home and abroad is in serious jeopardy.

Manly said that events surrounding the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs) during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate how supply chains that stretch halfway across the planet can prove deadly in times of crisis. There are already signs that food production is decreasing while demand remains high.

This week, the head of the UN World Food Program warned that the world is “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” that could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within a few months if immediate action isn’t taken. In Canada, the closure of the Cargill meat plant south of Calgary due to a coronavirus outbreak among workers has exposed the fragility of domestic farm production and supply. On Tuesday, the Trudeau administration announced that they would be curtailing beef exports so as to meet Canadian food demands.

“The reality is that here on Vancouver Island we would only have a three-day food supply if the ferries stopped running,” said Manly. “It’s a sobering thought. This pandemic is showing us where weaknesses lie, in supply chain management, in the centralization of processing, and societal deficiencies. As we unpack the lessons learned from this crisis and move into the recovery phase, we must seek opportunities to decentralize food production and processing to strengthen food security here in Canada.”

Manly said that over the past several years, trade conflicts and changing environmental conditions have presented a challenging decision-making environment to farmers. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the arrival of temporary foreign workers, creating the new problem of how to plant and manage crops with a drastically reduced workforce.

“Add to the mix flooding, droughts and wildfires brought on by the climate emergency and it is not hard to imagine how quickly Canada’s food supply chain could be interrupted, at grave risk to Canadians,” he said.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2018 temporary foreign workers (TFW) came from more than 100 countries to fill 54,734 jobs on 3,846 farms, primarily in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. The majority (65 per cent) worked on large farms ($2 million or more in revenue). This week the CBC reported that many Canadians farmers are worried that the delayed arrival of TFWs due to COVID-19 could result in diminished production, potential food shortages and higher prices for consumers.

“It’s time to revisit our approach to farming and agriculture in Canada,” said Green Party Interim Leader Jo-Ann Roberts. “Here in the maritimes fruit growers were hit by a devastating frost in 2018, then Hurricane Dorian hit in September and now planting is being delayed by the wait for TFWs.”

“These climate challenges are only going to get worse, which is why we need to adapt fast. While the large agro-business model has provided us with an abundant supply of food to date, now is the time to invest in smaller, local, organic farming operations across the country. In this way provinces and territories can prepare to localize production and supply as much as possible, so that in an emergency they can be more self-sufficient.”

Canada’s 2016 Census of Agriculture showed a three per cent increase in the total number of young farm operators across the country – the first increase since 1991.

“As older generations of farmers retire, we need to support and encourage young farmers to step in,” said Manly. “As we do that, let’s grasp the opportunity to promote and incentivize more sustainable farming practices that will ultimately provide a stronger, healthier and more resilient supply chain.”

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