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An opportunity to rethink our food system

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Special collaboration

Meggie Canuel Caron agr.

Mushroom producer

In our history, it's during periods of great crisis that we see the resurgence of concerns about food self-sufficiency. It was after the Second World War that the concept of food self-sufficiency became popular. Indeed, at that time, several nations put in place offensive productivist agricultural policies and we witnessed the decolonization of several food-producing countries. It is therefore not surprising that the term "food autonomy" appears on the lips of our political leaders, since the beginning of this health crisis.

Over the past year, concerns about supply chain instabilities have inspired our government to introduce a variety of bio-food sector-friendly measures, strategies and programs. As a new agricultural producer, I can't help but be excited about this slight breeze of positive change in these stormy times.

However, while reading a very interesting file from the Institut de recherche en économie contemporaine (IREC) published on the Eat Our St. Lawrence website, a reflection was triggered through my enthusiasm for the issue of food autonomy in Quebec. How do we want to see this change take place in this period of societal transformation?

Let's start this reflection with an explanation of food self-sufficiency as related in the IREC file. This politically appealing concept represents in fact the quantities produced in relation to the quantities consumed in a given territory. However, this ratio does not take into consideration how this quantity produced is distributed to meet the domestic demand of this given territory. This indicator, as used by our decision-makers, would therefore indicate that a population would be 100% self-sufficient even if it imported all of what it consumed, provided that it exported the same quantity. This is where the difference between self-sufficiency and food sovereignty comes into play.

This way of conceiving the food system, based on market variables, reminds us that the biofood policy of 2018-2025 is based on an agro-industrial model that relies on increasing exports. If we focus instead on a local supply chain and thus on the notion of food sovereignty, can we really believe that this would be more effective than diversified international chains in addressing shortages and price variations? This is the question that was asked in a CIRANO report on food autonomy published in 2020. According to the authors, the answer to this question is not clearly demonstrated and raises another fundamental question: why do we want this food autonomy?

So, it's time for the real questions. As I sometimes have to remind myself as an entrepreneur, there is no point in proposing ideas, strategies and action plans without first defining the direction and vision. I think we need to take the time to establish what is important to us as a company. Perhaps it is time to rethink our development model, which is based solely on economic variables.

In any case, this reappropriation of our autonomy is a golden opportunity to bring to the forefront what characterizes the environments in their specificities. Indeed, the time has come to consider more territorial and social dimensions, such as the vitality of communities, the diversity and quality of the local food supply, the pressure exerted on ecosystems, access to land, etc. IREC suggests reforming the indices of progress that our policymakers use to incorporate these facets of our development and make sustainability the flagship concept of these indicators.

While this is an interesting idea, in this time of the pandemic, I believe that this transformation will have to take place by mobilizing everyone to reconnect with the vital nature of our food. It is a common good around which we can gather and combine our know-how and strengths. Companies like Orisha are among those who have put their passion and expertise at the service of this food autonomy.

The multiplication of greenhouses on a local scale is a fabulous example of a tool at our disposal to move toward this great project. I feel that reclaiming our ability to feed ourselves collectively is more essential than ever at a time when our individual power is limited to very little. It is up to each of us to discover how we can contribute to this collective project if it resonates as much for you as it does for me.

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