I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 28 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. I'm going to start with a few reminders.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just so you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, as opposed to the entirety of the committee. Screenshots are not permitted, and, of course, following the health guidelines according to the Board of Internal Economy is required.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, May 30, 2022, the committee is resuming its study of global food insecurity. This is something that we've been studying since June, and we're turning to a domestic focus.
I'd like to welcome the witnesses to our panel right now. We have three different witnesses in the room.
I see Mr. Perron's hand, and I want to let him know that there were sound checks done ahead of time for interpretation services. Mr. Lemaire failed his technical test, but all of the other witnesses passed. He had to travel at the last minute and forgot the headset that was issued by the House of Commons. He is in the second panel. If the interpretation services are not adequate and the earbuds he has do not work, he unfortunately will not be able to participate. Everyone else did go through that service.
I want to start with the panellists who are here.
On the screen, we have Dr. Evan Fraser, who is the director of Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph. He is joining us by video conference.
From Cereals Canada, we have Mark Walker, vice-president of markets and trades. Mr. Walker joins us today in person in Ottawa. It's great to see you, Mr. Walker.
We also have, from the Global Institute for Food Security, Dr. Steve Webb, who is the chief executive officer. He is here via video conference from Saskatoon. Dr. Webb, it's great to see you. I had the opportunity to join you in April in Saskatoon, and I certainly appreciate the work that you do.
We're going to give five minutes for opening statements. We are a little time-constrained today because of the votes, so we're going to move as quickly as possible.
I'm going to start with Dr. Evan Fraser.
You have up to five minutes.
Thank you. What a great opportunity.
In these brief comments, I'd like to lay out four points for you to ensure that Canada uses advanced agri-food technologies to both expand exports, which was the question I was asked to ponder, and at the same time be a global leader in what we're calling the “digital agriculture revolution”, which is a way of addressing climate change. We're looking for some win-wins here.
First is the obvious: We have to invest in our infrastructure more. Today, as we know, the Prairies are almost a unique resource globally in terms of their ability to produce grains and oilseeds as well as plants and animal-based proteins. That capacity goes through the Rocky Mountains on a very small number of train lines, and every few years that service is disrupted.
Just last week, I was on a panel with the vice-president of operations for the Port of Vancouver, and he discussed how the bottlenecks are spreading even now as we speak. The fragility of our trading system harms our ability to be that breadbasket for the world that Canada aspires to be, and we need to make our transportation infrastructure more of a focus.
The second point is to create financial incentives to reward farmers who adopt greenhouse gas mitigating management practices and then market ourselves to world markets as sustainable agriculture. By embracing what some of us are calling regenerative agriculture, meaning encouraging farmers to use more complicated crop rotations that take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and by using smart tractors that are very, very efficient with fertilizer, agriculture can become a source of the climate solution as opposed to a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Doing that will allow us to build a global sustainability brand that will be a trade advantage in an increasingly climate-concerned world.
Without giving too much away, on October 25, my institute, the Arrell Food Institute, together with the CEO's office at Royal Bank and the Boston Consulting Group, is releasing the first of a series of reports that tackle that issue. The punchline of these reports is that we need a federal carbon pricing mechanism that captures agriculture, sends the signals to farmers to do the right thing and gives us a basis on which to build a sustainable trade brand.
Third, if we want to produce the food, we have to train the right people, and this requires us to address the labour shortage. This means we have to train people, encourage young people to come into agriculture and rebrand agriculture away from the idea that it involves a straw hat and a red barn and towards the understanding that the farmer of the future is as likely to wear a lab coat as she or he is to drive a tractor. Agriculture is part of the innovation economy, and we need investment in our curriculum of skills that we train people with. If Canada wants to expand our exports in the long term, we need a technologically savvy workforce who are ready to drive innovation.
Fourth, and finally, my last point is that we need to invest in the tools of what some of us call the “digital agriculture revolution”. The same tools that gave us smart phones and are transforming medicine are finding their way into barns and food processing facilities as controlled environment agriculture, vertical farming, and robotic harvesters and milkers, allowing us to boost production while reducing inputs, along with more efficient processing facilities and smart packaging. That's just a tip of the iceberg of what technology can unlock for us.
I think Canada needs to be at the head of this wave of innovation. We should do this by creating ag-tech innovation zones, giving particular areas preferential tax and immigration status, land-use planning permissions and competitive utility rates, thus germinating a Canadian Silicone Valley for food.
There's a lot of good stuff already going on in the world and in our country. A quick example of a public-private partnership that is run by the Weston Family Foundation is a homegrown innovation challenge designed to spark innovative thinking on these technologies in our country.
To close, there are four points: expanding our transportation infrastructure, creating carbon markets and a global sustainability brand, training the next generation to be technologically savvy users of this digital agriculture revolution and creating ag-tech innovation zones.
These four strategies would allow us to grow exports in the long term and also allow us to reach that vision that the advisory council for economic growth, the Barton report, gave us in 2016, which is that Canada should be the world's trusted supplier of safe and sustainable food in the 21st century.
With that, I'd like to thank you and open the floor for questions, or whatever you want, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for having me here today.
My name is Mark Walker, and I'm the vice-president of markets and trade at Cereals Canada.
Cereals Canada is a national industry association for wheat, durum, barley and oats in Canada. Our membership includes a full value chain, from farmers to crop development companies to grain handlers and exporters.
Our members are focused on the benefits of export-led growth, facilitated by access to diverse global markets. Canadian cereals are a staple food export to every corner of the world. In the last half decade, Canadian wheat exports have reached over 80 countries. In an average year, Canadian farmers plant 35 million acres of cereals, resulting in 27 million tonnes of exports and over $9 billion in export revenue.
For generations, Canadian farmers have grown crops that feed the world. While global populations have grown, the demand for food has grown with them. Canada's cereal growers have risen to this challenge by embracing innovative practices while increasing our country's ability to produce for ourselves and for export. Improved seed varieties have led to greater yields across our industry, and new crop production technologies have allowed producers to grow their crops more efficiently while reducing their environmental footprint.
In the 1980s, wheat yields averaged 27 bushels per acre across 27 million seeded acres. While seeded acres of wheat have fallen to 15 million, our yields have increased to over 50 bushels per acre. The precision and success with which growers farm today is a testament to decades of enabling regulations, investment in research and a willingness to innovate. Government's role in this progress has been notable and is greatly appreciated.
As our industry undertakes to manage growing seasons increasingly characterized by drought, excess moisture and a volatile climate, all while seeking to ensure consistent production for export, we would highlight the continued role that government has to play in this space.
We believe export success begins at home, with Canadian production of sustainable food. Farmers need access to science-based regulations to support the productivity, reliability and quality of Canadian exports. A trade environment that facilitates the production and export of Canadian agriculture products is key to strengthening Canada's contribution to global food security in the coming years.
Outside of our borders, industry and government can also work together on market development and market access initiatives to cultivate opportunities for growth and diversification across more than 80 markets that purchase Canadian cereals.
Cereals Canada houses a dedicated team of experts focused on market maintenance, market development, market access and trade policy. Our team of experts tirelessly represents the Canadian cereals industry across the world to our international customers and international domestic governments to ensure that Canadian cereals make their way to global markets in the most efficient way possible. Where barriers arise, we proactively seek solutions.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's AgriMarketing program, which we have successfully subscribed to for over a decade, plays a key role in this work. As we diversify our international markets for wheat, barley and oats, we will continue to look to this incredibly important program to build on our successes and advance global food security.
In addition to our markets and trade team, Cereals Canada's technical team of experts works with international customers to ensure that they get the most and best use from Canadian cereals. Canadian wheat is used as an “improver” wheat around the world. Blending Canadian wheat with lower-protein, lower-quality alternatives improves the function and use when making food products for customers. In an environment of rising food costs and supply disruptions, our experts are working with international customers on how to use Canadian wheat to its maximum value.
Using our equipment and expertise, our teams work with customers to streamline various processes within their production systems. For example, through our understanding of the requirements of various customers, our pilot mill in downtown Winnipeg has helped reduce the number of milling cycles required to produce the flour for our customers' end-use products, saving resources and increasing affordability.
Earlier this month, members of the same team provided a workshop at the African Milling School in Kenya to help train millers from across Africa on best practices when using Canadian wheat. Last week, we hosted a group of North African durum millers for conversations about this year's harvest to outline quality expectations for use in their mills. Several years ago, we undertook a significant knowledge transfer exercise, helping to open a technical facility in Morocco focused on durum wheat, milling and couscous production.
Increasingly, our conversations with global customers highlight concerns regarding the tightening supplies of wheat and the role that our organization can play in meeting those challenges. Ultimately, a stronger trade environment, supported by enabling domestic policies, will enhance contributions to global food security while unlocking greater diversification opportunities for the development of the Canadian economy.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you and good afternoon, Mr. Chair. Thanks for the invitation to be here today.
The Global Institute for Food Security is a government, industry and academic partnership.
I'd like to begin my testimony with a critically important statement: Global food insecurity is global insecurity.
Norman Borlaug noted that you can't build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery. Mr. Chair, at no time has this statement been more poignant than it is now.
Global population is expanding rapidly. We have the challenge of feeding a growing world with limited resources of land, water and nutrients, as well as challenges both natural and entirely self-inflicted, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine. These all threaten the resiliency of the global food system and our ability to feed the world sustainably.
However, there's a solution to these challenges. In Canada, we are one of a handful of nations that are net producers of food, and we do so in a manner that's economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. We have the food, fuel and fertilizer that the world needs, and our agriculture and food sector is poised to feed a growing world. However, to succeed we need to support the industry with appropriate policies that enable us to take advantage of the opportunities before us.
The previous two witnesses mentioned the Barton report, and they identified the opportunity here. The report's right, so today I'd like to recommend four domestic policy opportunities that can improve Canada's exports on the global stage.
The first is around innovation. We cannot continue to tackle today's and tomorrow's challenges with yesterday's tools and technologies. We need innovation to help deliver the greatest positive impact through our agriculture and food sectors. Unfortunately, Canada's innovation input does not produce the returns on investments that we should expect.
The most recent Conference Board of Canada report ranks our nation as eighth in investments but 23rd in outcomes achieved. We need to remedy this situation by creating a coherent, integrated, national innovation strategy. Innovation is a team sport, and we can no longer focus on revamping one part of the system without consideration of all areas involved.
The next policy recommendation is to drive major capital investments into infrastructure. We can't recommend a policy to improve Canadian exports without addressing the infrastructure to support this, such as rural wireless connectivity, ports and rail systems. Investments in our infrastructure will ensure that Canada remains competitive and regains its reputation as a reliable supplier. Canada must own this.
The third policy recommendation is around regulatory modernization through the creation of a transparent, predictable, science-based, interactive and enabling regulatory framework. Our agriculture and food sectors are impacted by regulatory complexity and bottlenecks that limit producer and consumer access to the latest proven innovations. A highly functional regulatory framework is a competitive advantage for Canada. It builds trust, both here domestically as well as internationally. We know this can be done, but it shouldn't take a crisis for things to work. Let's lay the building blocks now for modernizing our regulatory system to embrace a science-based approach that supports innovation.
The last policy recommendation I'd like to highlight relates to sustainability. Canada is one of the world's most sustainable producers of food. We need to be proud of the strides we have made and how far we've come.
On changes in agronomic practices, Dr. Fraser mentioned regenerative agriculture, such as no-till practices. Variable rate fertilizer application in western Canada, and in particular in Saskatchewan, has resulted in 22% more land being used in annual production, with the elimination of summer fallow. Remarkably, on a production intensity basis, farmers in western Canada have decreased nitrogen fertilizer use by 28% per bushel per acre over the last 30 years.
When we consider policy changes such as recent discussions to reduce fertilizer emissions, and by extension usage, we must consider the unintended consequences of such policies. Not doing so will paint an inaccurate picture of how sustainable Canadian agriculture is and will lead to public mistrust of our resilient and sustainable agriculture system. This will in turn negatively impact export opportunities. We need to lead the way on this. Canada should not be following.
One last point I'd like to leave with the committee is that we need to bring all parties to the table together to address these challenges. GIFS model of industry, government and academia partnership embraces the best of all three of the stakeholders needed to advance innovation. We need to capture the wisdom of the room with all of the stakeholders.
As I wrap up, I'd like to thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the House committee, for the invitation and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today. I look forward to questions.
The Chair: That's three for three. Well done to our witnesses for timing.
Colleagues, because there was some delay with the votes, we have about 45 minutes per panel. The way I'm going to do this is that each party will get a first six-minute round and then we will allow two and a half minutes for the Liberals and the Conservatives each on the second round.
Mr. Barlow, you're going to lead off for the Conservatives.
Mr. John Barlow (Foothills, CPC): Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to our witnesses. I appreciate your patience as we sort of get back to normal with votes. Unfortunately, that does delay committees sometimes.
For Dr. Webb first, I appreciate your comments about the need for science-based decision-making and a science-based regulatory regime. In your opinion, would the fertilizer emissions reduction policy be a decision or a policy that's based on sound science? If not, why?
Dr. Steven Webb: I would like to say that the intention of the policy is right, in the context of reducing emissions. However, the approach is only being looked at in the context of the emissions standard.
We need to take that holistic production intensity approach to ensure that we have a policy framework that delivers economic, environmental and social outcomes that lead to sustainability. Again, if you look at the results that I've mentioned—the 22% increase in land in production as well as the 28% reduction in nitrogen use per bushel per acre—these are data points that can inform policy to ensure that we have the one that creates the most competitive environment for Canada in the global marketplace.
Mr. John Barlow: To that point, I appreciate that you mentioned that our producers have already reduced fertilizer use by 28% in many parts of the country.
You talked about the narrative around this. If reducing emissions is indeed our goal, which is very laudable, would it not have been more beneficial in the narrative, and certainly to our producers, to say to other countries around the world that if they need to reduce emissions, why not take a look at what Canada is doing? We are the gold standard. We have already reduced fertilizer, so take a look at our innovation and our technology and learn from our practices here in Canada. Would following our standard not have been a more successful approach to reducing emissions in other countries?
Dr. Steven Webb: That is the opportunity for Canada to lead the way and to provide and share those innovations.
Today all of the witnesses who are appearing in front of this committee are members of the National Index on Agri-Food Performance. That index is a coalition of over 100 organizations, which includes federal government departments as well as provincial departments, industry players large and small, and all of the producer groups. Evan and I are part of the index from the not-for-profit community. It's a very interesting Canadian solution to benchmarking economic, environmental, social and food integrity opportunities to showcase and highlight them and have Canada lead the way.
We should not be following. We should not be ashamed of the impact that innovation has made in agriculture.
The first time I came to western Canada, I was 14 years old. Almost half the land that I saw was under summer fallow. Now it's not, so thank you.
Mr. John Barlow: Thanks, Dr. Webb.
I want to turn to Mr. Walker now.
I know you talked about transportation. Eight union contracts with railways expire on December 31. Everything I've heard is that we could have our yields up about 50% compared to last year, which was admittedly a difficult year.
What impact has rail capacity had on our ability to meet some of our goals in terms of trade opportunities and moving goods? Is the industry potentially looking at what could be happening later on this year?
Mr. Mark Walker: Thank you for your question.
You made some good points about harvest and yields. At the end of the day, Canadian exporters need trade infrastructure that keeps up with capacity to meet growing export demand. We know that for cereals, this year's harvest is going to be 56% larger than last year. Harvest was 80% complete across Canada as of last week. With this in mind, our export sector is certainly eager to work with the railways to ensure that Canadian grain gets to market in a timely and efficient manner.
Mr. John Barlow: Are there some specific steps that the industry has looked at in terms of rail service? Is there federal policy that we can use to ensure food security not only domestically but to meet demand globally as well?
Mr. Mark Walker: I'm a markets and trade expert. I do some work on transportation policy, but Cereals Canada is a member of the Canada's Ready coalition. We have a landing page, canadasready.ca, that outlines our asks of government, as well as the railways, moving forward into this critical harvest. I will provide that information to the committee so that it can be included as part of the study.
Mr. John Barlow: I have time for one last quick question. It's for Dr. Webb as well.
You've talked about infrastructure, ports and rail. Is there something specific on the rail side when we see that these union agreements could be expiring on December 31? What would you like to see there from a federal policy to ensure that rail keeps moving?
Dr. Steve Webb: When even the threat of strikes comes up, we've seen that it creates uncertainty in the supply chain. Any way to mitigate labour disruptions would be beneficial to all in the system.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Webb. Thank you, Mr. Barlow.
We're going to turn to Mr. Drouin for six minutes.
Mr. Francis Drouin (Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, Lib.): Great. Thanks very much to the witnesses for being here.
I have a quick question on transportation. Maybe Mr. Walker could comment. I would also like to get Dr. Fraser's opinion, because he's mentioned that transportation is important.
Recently I found out that the delta for a train to be on time is about four hours. If you're four hours before, you're on time. If you're four hours after the time you've set, both companies that are operating in Canada say you're on time. Are they actively trying to work with your members to reduce that delta so that they're on time? How does that compare to the U.S., for instance?
We know there might be strike potential in the U.S. as well. We often hear about CN and CP, but I don't know what's happening in the U.S. If you're talking to some of your counterparts in the U.S., what's the relationship down there with the rail companies?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to use the beginning of my six minutes just to read a notice of motion into the record, and I know the clerk has a copy of that motion in both official languages. The motion is as follows:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a study on profit-driven inflation in the grocery sector and the costs of groceries going up while large chains are making record profits; that the committee examine the record profits of large grocery chains and their CEOs in relation to employee wages and the cost of groceries in Canada; that the committee also examine the ability of large grocery chains leveraging their size to cut into the earnings of Canadian farmers; that the committee invite witnesses with specific knowledge on profit-driven inflation and affected stakeholders from the industry, including grocer CEOs, economists, unions and farmers or representative organizations; that no fewer than six meetings are set aside to hear from witnesses; that the committee report its findings to the House and that, pursuant to Standing Order 109, the Government table a comprehensive response to the report.
That's just a notice of motion for all of my colleagues to consider in the coming days.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'll continue with my questions. I want to join with my colleagues in thanking the witnesses for appearing before our committee and helping to guide us through this study.
Dr. Fraser, I'd like to start with you and the Arrell Food Institute. I can remember when our committee visited the University of Guelph back in 2018, and we were really impressed with some of the amazing work that your university is undertaking.
I'm glad you mentioned climate change in your submission and mentioned it in your opening remarks. One of our earlier witnesses on this study was Oxfam, and they noted in their look at this issue that over the last 20 years there has been an 819% increase in weather-related humanitarian funding appeals. We have a huge crisis going on right now in the Horn of Africa. The head of the World Food Programme was in the news today, talking about the crisis that exists there. They are experiencing severe droughts that have impacted the ability of local farmers to produce food for the local population.
Then of course the region was hit with the war in Ukraine. Ukraine, being a breadbasket for the region, essentially had its exports of grain cut off for a number of months, and we're still recovering from that backlog. Also, climate change is impacting our farmers' abilities. My province of B.C. was cut off from the rest of Canada last November, and we know that farmers in the Prairies have experienced extreme droughts and extreme flooding events, which have impacted our ability to produce to our full potential.
At the same time that our country is trying to increase its production, we're also fighting this rearguard action against what climate change is doing to our production. We know that countries around the world are struggling with the same problems, but they don't have the resiliency and technological know-how or the funding resources that our government has.
I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how Canadian expertise and know-how could be used in places like countries in Africa to help build that local resiliency. When the rug is pulled out from underneath them, such as when a country like Ukraine suddenly has its exports cut, what can we do to build the resiliency and how can Canada step in to fill that void? If you have any thoughts on that in the next couple of minutes, they would be appreciated.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you today and to join you with my fellow panellists. As mentioned, my name is Chris Davison, and I'm the vice-president of stakeholder and industry relations with the Canola Council of Canada.
The council encompasses all links in the canola value chain. Our members include canola growers, life science companies, grain handlers, exporters, processors and other industry participants. Our shared goal is to ensure the industry's continued growth and success and to do this by meeting global demand for canola and canola-based products, which include food, feed and fuel.
Canola's success is Canada's success. Our industry represents almost $30 billion in economic activity annually, some 207,000 jobs, $12 billion in wages and the largest share of farm cash receipts in the country. Our strategic plan is built on three key pillars: sustainable and reliable supply, differentiated value, and stable and open trade.
In appearing before you today, I was asked to focus my comments on domestic policy recommendations that can improve Canadian exports on the global stage. As an industry that exports 90% of what we produce as canola seed, oil and meal, that is music to my ears. In responding to this request, I'm going to group my remarks into three areas of interest: market access and trade, regulatory initiatives and innovation.
Before doing so, however, I want to acknowledge the very real food insecurity challenges we face. Certainly the war in Ukraine and other recent events and developments have brought this into focus; however, food insecurity is not an episodic occurrence. It may be more acute or exacerbated at different points in time, but it is systemic in nature and, as we know, has both domestic and international dimensions. Canada generally, and our industry specifically, is in the fortunate position of being able to help address some food insecurity challenges. It is a well-established fact that Canada produces more than it needs for domestic purposes, and as I mentioned previously, canola is no exception.
That said, we are not without our challenges. The biggest among those, and the one with the most direct implications in terms of our ability to contribute to the alleviation of food insecurity, is meeting the demand challenge. Demand signals paint a general picture of significant demand growth for the foreseeable future, driven by global production challenges, geopolitical events and interest in healthy vegetable oils, among others. These demand signals have in turn served as a catalyst for the development of expanded processing capacity in Canada, as reflected in recent investment announcements and activity totalling close to $2 billion.
Therefore, it is an exciting and dynamic time for our industry, but in order to realize this growth potential and play a continued and arguably enhanced role in helping to address food insecurity, meeting demand is job number one. Market access and trade, current regulatory initiatives, and innovation all have a critical role to play in this regard.
With regard to market access and trade, it is no secret that open borders and open markets are the best way to help keep food plentiful, and they play an integral role in price stability. Market access and trade in the face of the war in Ukraine as well as other factors, including post-COVID protectionism, intensified competition, and the impacts of climate change, to name just a few, are critical. Accordingly, and as part of the broader Canadian agri-food sector, the canola industry is supportive of and an active participant in efforts to open new markets, encourage and demonstrate Canadian leadership in international fora with regard to rules-based trade, and strengthen advocacy capacity and government-industry collaboration.
In terms of current regulatory initiatives, of which there are several, I would simply say that we need to double down on our commitment to the development and implementation of science-based and evidence-based regulations that enable development, commercialization and access to the tools needed to realize increased production to be able to meet demand. We need to do this to provide clarity, enhance our competitiveness, attract additional investment and ultimately keep and put new tools in the hands of canola growers as they navigate an increasingly challenging production landscape.
With regard to innovation, it is well recognized that innovation has driven canola to become one of the world's most important oilseeds and Canada's most valuable crop, and we are poised to do even more with not just domestic, economic or environmental benefits as the result, but also in terms of our ability to help address food insecurity.
This past spring, we released a refreshed canola innovation strategy. It outlines a vision for near-term priorities to support the continued growth and development of our industry, including meeting the demand requirements referenced previously. The strategy encompasses four pillars: performance, precision, protection and product. If successfully implemented in terms of collaboration, effort, funding and regulation, this strategy will support the next phase of growth of the Canadian canola industry by improving performance, further increasing precision, protecting the crop and markets, and focusing on canola's strengths as an oilseed crop.
This will not only create more economic activity but also enhance our ability to address global food insecurity challenges as a result of the productivity gains it delivers. We would be pleased to share a copy of the innovation strategy with members of the committee if it is of interest.
By way of conclusion, the world wants and needs more Canadian canola. We need to work in partnership if we are going to work effectively to deliver it, inclusive of addressing food insecurity challenges as well as other shared objectives. We must also recognize that our ability to do so is in no small part dependent on our competitiveness in global markets. As we take domestic policy decisions, we must do so in a way that does not add costs that render our products less competitive.
Thank you for your time today. I look forward to our discussion.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I'm speaking to you on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, representing approximately 190,000 farm families across Canada from coast to coast to coast. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak on global food insecurity.
Earlier this week I attended a presentation by David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Programme. He emphasized that a lack of fertilizer and production issues in major agricultural regions will result in a dramatic increase in the number of people globally impacted by acute food insecurity, already at 345 million people worldwide. The gravity of this situation is only heightened by the link between food insecurity and civil unrest, with his remarks noting the urgent need to maximize global food production and enhance resilience in agri-food systems.
Canada is blessed with an enviable endowment of natural resources and highly efficient agricultural producers, yet we're not immune to the global challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and climate change. In this era of increasingly connected crises, an overreliance on either international trade or domestic production leaves nations vulnerable to supply chain disruptions, with potentially devastating effects.
For example, farmers across eastern Canada continue to experience uncertain access to fertilizer and recognize that scarcity of this essential input is potentially a reality for years to come. Policies like the tariff on Russian fertilizer only contribute to higher prices for essential inputs, as producers already contend with historically high operating costs. There remains an acute need for relief from this financial hardship.
Global food insecurity requires a multi-faceted whole-of-government approach, supporting resilient food supply chains and maximizing food production. In my comments today, I'll touch on a few areas of critical importance in this regard.
First, on trade, at the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit, UN members agreed that the attainment of the SDGs will depend on fostering stable local food systems, supported by fair and rules-based trade. No international policy should create impediments to countries building their own agricultural infrastructure. The world needs strong rules-based trade that enables policy measures promoting stability of supply, such as safety nets, orderly marketing and supply management.
Canada's response to climate change is also a clear example of policies that have the potential to affect resilience and our capacity to produce food. Producers need policies that incent climate-resilient practices without constraining productivity. This requires collaboration between farmers and governments to leverage farm-level expertise. CFA continues to call for a working group of farmers, officials and technical experts to identify pragmatic climate change incentives that support continued productivity growth.
On infrastructure, physical and natural infrastructure is also central to our resilience in the face of climate change. Continued investment in the national trade corridors fund is essential to diversifying and strengthening our channels to market. CFA also supports the continued development of ecosystem services programming, such as the reverse auction program announced in budget 2021 for wetlands conservation and restoration. Recognizing farmers for their contributions to flood plain management and other public environmental goods is critical to the sector's long-term resilience.
On disaster responses and recovery, resilience also requires a coordinated approach to disaster response and the identification of measures that could mitigate and prevent future risks from occurring. CFA continues to call for collaborative post-disaster reviews as part of the AgriRecovery framework, bringing together key stakeholders after the initial disaster response to assess and identify best practices and needed changes, and to help design off-the-shelf programming responses for similar situations in the future.
Finally, with regard to labour and preservation of farm assets, maximizing Canadian food production requires access to labour and policies that preserve strategic agricultural assets. CFA is working closely with CAHRC and Food and Beverage Canada on an industry-led national workforce strategic plan to address the acute and systematic labour shortages that constrain our productivity. While industry-led, we look forward to engaging you in the coming months on the collective actions needed to tackle this chronic issue.
We must also work to ensure food security isn't sacrificed to conflicting interests. A prime example is a plot of Crown-owned farmland in Surrey, B.C., being put out for sale despite housing one of the most productive and climate-resilient horticultural operations serving the B.C. market. This may seem minor in the face of this global issue, but the loss of that land would be a permanent blow to food security in that region, demonstrating how policies across government can unknowingly add to existing food insecurity concerns.
In conclusion, global food insecurity is complex, with dramatic implications for political and economic stability around the world. We welcome this committee's commitment to explore Canada's role in responding to mounting global food insecurity. As you deliberate further on this topic, I would leave you with these four key areas where Canadian policies can have a direct and positive impact.
First is a strong international presence supporting rules-based trade that supports nations in promoting the stability of infrastructure and supply.
Second is a working group with farmers to ensure environmental policies support enhanced resilience and productivity.
Third is collaborative AgriRecovery reviews to mitigate and prevent future climate risks.
Last is a holistic approach to labour and the preservation of strategic productive assets in Canada.
I thank you for your time and welcome any questions you might have.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and committee members.
On behalf of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, which represents over 840 companies growing, packing, shipping and selling fresh fruit and vegetables domestically and globally and supports roughly 249,000 jobs across the country, I'm happy to present today on global food insecurity.
We all recognize that the topic of food insecurity is complex. Agriculture and agri-food play a key role in addressing solutions. The question we must ask is how agri-food can work across multiple jurisdictions and ministries, both domestically and globally, to ensure at-risk populations have the appropriate housing, employment, education and money to access food. Then there is the question of healthy food production and availability, and how agriculture can meet global challenges.
The pandemic is but one factor influencing global food insecurity; in many ways, it has further highlighted an already significant issue. Supply chains continue to be strained. Climate change has impacted our markets in Canada and globally. The war in Ukraine has added additional strain to an already fragile food system. As we know, war and other factors have led to a price increase in essential production inputs and commodities such as oil and associated fertilizer. This has directly resulted in price inflation, which has directly influenced food insecurity.
CPMA feels that food needs to be seen as essential and perishable food as a priority in all policy and programs, with consideration of fast lanes for both import and export models globally.
According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, nearly two-thirds of businesses said that a mandatory reduction of nitrogen-based fertilizer would decrease the profitability of their business and 42% said it would be challenging, as they have already reduced their nitrogen fertilizer use.
Instead of a nitrogen fertilizer reduction, given the difficult times that farmers are in, the CPMA suggests what Canadian researchers are encouraging farmers to do, which is to implement best practices to control or reduce nitrogen emissions. Some of these practices include conservation tillage, annual soil testing for nitrogen and rotating nitrogen-fixing crops.
The numbers don't lie. The Food and Agriculture Organization reported that an estimated 720 million to 811 million people in the world were food insecure in 2020. Similarly, in Canada, 2021 statistics show that 15.9% of households in the 10 provinces reported being food insecure. This is a grim reminder, but also an opportunity for Canada to drive change domestically and be a global force to address international needs.
As the only G7 country without a national school food program, we edge closer to the reality of investing in children's nutrition. The CPMA is a member of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, which is a non-partisan organization working to advance and support a national nutritious school food program, which would allow Canadian children to receive nutritious food at school using a cost-sharing model. By doing so, we would work towards achieving the United Nations' sustainable development goal number 2: ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition.
Domestically, I feel there are two key areas of focus, which are community change and industry support. How do we enable social programs that enable Canadians to buy the food they need and enable programs that support agri-food production and innovation? Examples like the surplus food rescue program and the local food infrastructure fund had an impact, but the withdrawal of funds from these sources left many NGOs without the ability to be sustainable within a perishable food system. As a recipient of surplus food rescue program funds, I saw first-hand the invisible food network, which is 61,000 charities and non-profits that support our efforts to address food security. All rely on a complex system of donations, logistics and funding. Second Harvest has reported that with $25 million in funding last year, they had requests for over $84 million for food that they were trying to support, which shows a dramatic need in the communities across the country. I will commend Second Harvest, as 71% of the funds were distributed to BIPOC community networks.
Food security is complex and requires aligned policies and programs to support the ability to produce, access and pay for food. The Canadian government has an opportunity to strengthen our supply chain to meet the dietary needs of Canadians and the rest of the world.
I greatly appreciate this opportunity to speak to the committee and to answer any questions you may have.