Here in Canada, we pride ourselves on having an abundance of natural resources. Our relatively small population density portrays a vast expanse of natural resources at our disposal, ready to be exploited (Statistics Canada, 2012). One of the resource sectors that receives little attention, but is a major component when discussing environmental impact, is the food and agriculture industry. Canada is the third largest exporter of wheat, and has large meat and dairy industries as well (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2012). As it now stands, there is no environmental policy with regards to agriculture (a framework policy has been written, but not enacted); no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s) are required for agricultural land, which makes it very difficult to predict and mitigate the impacts of agriculture on the ecosystem (OECD, 2012). To that end, little support is given to farmers to conduct research or make management plans based on sustainable agriculture principles. In a study on environmental farm planning by Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (2012), only 27 percent of all Canadian farms use environmental farm planning and of those, only 33 percent received government funding. Why doesn’t the Canadian government see the value in investing in sustainable farming practices? It would support farmers in making sustainable management plans, and encourage decision makers to implement a policy towards sustainable agriculture in Canada. Furthermore, it would be useful in establishing baseline data of the impacts agriculture has both in order to make future comparisons, and to monitor the effects of mitigation measures.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released a report on the state of agricultural policy and monitoring within OECD countries (OECD 2012). Emphasis is placed on increasing agricultural productivity, investing in new technologies and research to do so. It endorses the idea of increasing productivity in order to meet demands of a larger, wealthier population. But then conversely introduces the fact that OECD countries are losing productive agricultural land due to misuse and overuse (OECD 2012 p.69). Furthermore, it recognises that agriculture is not only largely resource intensive (land use, water use, chemical use), but that it is a large contributor to climate change itself and must be central to implementing mitigation measures for climate change. These views are supported by NGO’s (See video below), as well as the scientific community (Horrigan, Lawrence, and Walker (2002); Pelletier, Arsenault, and Tyedmers (2008)).
Impacts of traditional farming practices. Compassion in World Farming, a charity for the humane treatment of farm animals
It is clear that increasing productivity the traditional way is inherently unsustainable, which is precisely why Canada should invest in EIA as a tool to reduce the negative impacts of traditional farming on our common resources, as well as to support farmers in creating sustainable management plans. Although the Canadian situation seems bleak, there are a few concerned scientists, farmers, and academics who are working towards shifting practices by sharing ideas and research. The following video is an example of a step that is being taken to change traditional farming practices for the better. Although I am an avid believer in bottom-up approaches to paradigm shifts, I also believe that government policies can guide people in making responsible choices.
Improving Canada slowly. Conference on organic agriculture 2012
Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (2012). Environmental Farm Planning in Canada: A 2006 Overview. http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1326828211682&lang=eng. Last accessed September 30th 2012.
Horrigan, L., Lawrence, R., & Walker, P. (2002). How sustainable agriculture can address the environmental and human health harms of industrial agriculture. Environmental health perspectives,110,445-456.http://ehpnet1.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2002/110p445-456horrigan/abstract .html
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2012). Agricultural policy monitoring and evaluation 2012. http://www.keepeek.com/oecd/media/agriculture-and-food/agricultural-policy-monitoring-and-evaluation-2012_agr_pol-2012-en
Pelletier, N., Arsenault, N., & Tyedmers, P (2008) Scenario modeling potential eco-efficiency gains from a transition to organic agriculture: life cycle perspectives on Canadian canola, corn, soy, and wheat production. Environmental management, 42, 989-1001. DOI10.10 07/s00267-008-9155-x
Statistics Canada (2012). Population density, births and deaths for selected countries. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo01a-eng.htm–. Last accessed September 30th, 2012.