How to make the Canadian agri-food system more resilient in a post-COVID-19 world? That is the key question behind “Growing Stronger,” a new national project launched by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) and the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute (AFI). (Arrell Food Institute and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute. Growing Stronger: Aiming for Resilience in our Canadian Food System. May 28, 2020.)

In a recent letter to Canadians, the leadership of the project set the stage for the initiative, “From the earliest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been questions and concerns around our food system. Canadians have seen a steady stream of stories about empty grocery store shelves, rising foodbank use, excess food being dumped, fields left unplanted because of a lack of temporary foreign workers, and meatpacking plants becoming disease hotspots.”

“This pandemic is unprecedented, and it can be argued that our system responded well. But the world is fragile. There will be future crises. The question must be asked, ‘Could we have done better?’”

“In the post- COVID19 world, seeking answers to the key question of “how to build a resilient Canadian agri-food system?” will become more urgent than ever, as this crisis brings to light both where we successfully adapted as well as revealing hidden vulnerabilities in the Canadian agri-food system,’ said University of Guelph Professor Evan Fraser, director of AFI. Fraser is co-chairing the project with former deputy minister for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Deb Stark, who is currently a board member for both CAPI and the University of Guelph, and Don Buckingham, president, and CEO of CAPI.”

“What went well? What did not? Where do we go from here? If we can answer these questions, Canada’s food system will be even stronger. And that’s better for us all.’ said Stark.”

Lessons learned from the pandemic – Tell your story

The first step in the “Growing Stronger” project is to gather evidence on what happened to the Canadian food system during the pandemic. An online portal, accessible to anyone who would like to provide their perspective, has been launched.

As outlined on the AFI website, AFI and CAPI are inviting input from people and organizations across the food supply chain including farmers, migrant workers, producers, processors, retailers, foodservice owners, operators and staff, support organizations, individual consumers, members of indigenous communities, researchers, etc. Submissions of general thoughts, opinions, and experiences are welcome. A series of questions are provided as useful prompts.

Nationwide virtual consultations

According to a letter from the co-chairs posted on the AFI website, over the summer, and into the fall, AFI and CAPI will be hosting a series of virtual consultations and will identify key themes pertaining to food security and access, the economic viability of the farm sector, sustainable food production, and Canada’s place on the global stage.

Building recommendations to help Canada weather future food system disruptions

“The nationwide dialogue will result in policy recommendations, questions for future research projects, and the creation of a learning network for participants. Draft conclusions and recommendations will be debated at the 2020 Arrell Food Summit before being presented in their final form in 2021 at the CAPI Big Solutions Forum.”

“Whether you are a producer, processor or retailer, a member of an indigenous community or a migrant farmworker, an urban consumer with job security or someone who depends on a foodbank, we’d like your advice on the food system,” said Buckingham. “We must listen and learn what rural, urban and remote communities faced during the lockdown and then use these learnings to inform our future policy directions for greater sustainability and resilience for Canada’s food system.”

To participate in “Growing Stronger” project, visit the website at www.Arrellfoodinstitute.ca/growing-stronger

Source: Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute at the University of Guelph and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute. (2020, May 28) Growing Stronger: Aiming for Resilience in our Canadian Food System [Press release] Source: Arrell Food Institute website
Source: University of Guelph