Sustainable Futures

Sustainable Futures: How Canadian Agriculture Can Provide Solutions to 21st Century Challenges?

Background:

The big challenges for Canada and the world in the 21st century include food shortages, energy security, climate change and its effect on international stability, sustainable resource shortages, and the need to produce more with less.  Agriculture and all the other related industries and sciences can make a significant contribution to solving these problems.  Canada has in many ways led in these efforts.

Much of Standing Committee deliberations focus on immediate short-term crises in the agricultural community. Important and as necessary as this work is, it contributes to Canadian public’s perception — and that of many government officials and NGOs — that contemporary agriculture is a never-ending source of problems instead of a source of solutions.

People loose sight of the fact that the 68 million hectares of arable land in Canada provide the foundation for sustainable solutions to many of the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century.  Examples include:

  • Food security
  • Human and animal health
  • Renewable sources of energy,
  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Economic development in both rural and urban regions.

Solutions are the result of the many industries and the sciences that fuel them and which rely upon the agri-resource base. Together they can supply sustainable and profitable goods and services such as: healthy food, bio-plastics, bio-fuels, and “farmaceuticals” (i.e. the agro-economy).

Proposal:

The overarching question that the Committee could ask is:  What are the “tools and rules” that the agri-based industries and sciences will need to ensure that agriculture can be profitable and sustainably used to meet 21st century challenge?

One important set of tools for investigation is intellectual capital: “from knowledge to know how” applied to sustainable intensification of agricultural production and to the sustainable production and distribution of agricultural based fuels, foods and other agri-products.  Collaboration between industries and between scientific communities is another very important tool.  Rules include government policies that can either stimulate investment in the many industries and related research efforts or stymie such.

The committee would need to hear from credible and informed witness who could take stock of Canada’s major long-term challenges and suggest how Canadian agriculture and related industries and sciences play in meeting those challenges. What are those challenges? What pressures are the agri-resources under?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of the related industries? What advantages do Canada’s agri-resources enjoy relative to those in other countries to provide solutions to those challenges?  What needs to be done to ensure that the resources with which we are blessed will be able to sustainably produce more with less? What are the trade-offs?  Where are there conflicting needs and how can they be reconciled?

The committee would need to hear from experts in scientific communities and the industries that make use of the resource (i.e. from farmers, food manufacturers, biotechnologists, bio-fuels manufacturers.)

Conclusion:

This is a visionary exercise. It would help Members of Parliament to contribute to a long-term vision and strategy to ensure that Canadian agriculture provides long-term solutions to problems of health and energy, climate change and growing demand for the benefits of rising incomes.

In the course of reviewing long-term trends and the role that science can contribute to meeting long-term challenges, some very credible suggestions are likely emerge about how to assist farmers, ranchers, food manufacturers, bio-fuel manufacturers and others overcome shorter term difficulties.


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