Canada wants a resilient and equitable food system for future generations
Nature-inclusive agriculture is gaining popularity among Canadian farmers. By combining indigenous agriculture with new innovative methods, they can reduce their environmental impact and improve the resilience of their farms. Unfortunately, that is not as simple as it seems. More research, education, and policy support are needed as well as continued discussions with relevant stakeholders, such as Wageningen University & Research (WUR).
Nature-inclusive practices offer several benefits to farmers. If implemented correctly, it supports biodiversity and resilience on farms (serve as a natural pest control), which in turn helps farmers to cope with environmental challenges, such as extreme weather and disease. Integrated pest management and rotational grazing can lead to decreased reliance on synthetic inputs, thus reducing input costs. And shifting focus from the production side to individual, nature-inclusive practices helps strengthen the health of farmers and their quality of life.
Indigenous communities in Canada, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, are particularly well-equipped to practice nature-inclusive agriculture, as they have a sound understanding of local ecosystems, weather patterns and plant behavior. They are known for their methods of agroecology, using traditional land management techniques such as rotational grazing and intercropping. They also prioritize the preservation and revitalization of traditional crops and seed varieties that are adapted to their specific environment. These methods promote biodiversity, soil health, and natural pest control, which in turn reduce the need for chemical inputs.
By combining these traditional methods with modern, innovative approaches, Canadian farmers not only reduce their environmental impact but also improve the resilience of their farms in the face of a changing climate. Unfortunately, that may not be as simple as it seems. For example, adopting nature-inclusive practices may require non-indigenous farmers to acquire new knowledge and skills related to ecosystem dynamics and soil health management. Second, small-scale farmers may have limited access to capital, thus limiting the availability of resources. Third, given that the adoption of nature-inclusive practices is not a turnkey solution simply due to the number of variables at play, farmers may face challenges when navigating regulations, permits, and other relevant policy frameworks.
Fortunately, the Canadian government recognizes the importance of sustainable agriculture practices and has taken steps to provide funding via an array of programs, initiatives, and grants geared towards providing the support necessary to implement said practices.
‘The fight against climate change is not only about reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also helping farmers to innovate and adopt more sustainable farming practices. We will continue to do what is necessary to protect our environment and provide farmers with the support needed to make their operations more sustainable for future generations. The On-Farm Climate Action Fund builds on the work already underway by our Government to lower greenhouse gas emissions and help improve long-term climate resiliency in the agriculture sector.’ - The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
On-Farm Climate Action Fund (OFCAF)
One example of a Canadian government initiative is the On-Farm Climate Action Fund (OFCAF) that provides funding to farmers and agricultural producers to implement on-farm projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, enhance carbon sequestration, and increase climate resilience in the agriculture sector. Two notable features of the OFCAF include: funding streams and support (National On-Farm Climate Action Fund, the Indigenous Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Living Labs Initiative) and the emphasis on collaboration and innovation among various stakeholders to develop partnerships that can help combat climate change. The OFCAF initiative was scheduled to expire in 2023 but an additional investment of $470 million from the Canadian government has extended the expiration date to 2024.
Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP)
A second initiative is the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP). The CAP is a five-year agreement between the federal, provincial, and territorial governments that provides funding and support to help Canadian farmers improve their economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Under CAP, there are several funding streams that support sustainable agricultural practices in Canada, including environmental stewardship (soil health/nutrient management, water quality), value-added processing (sustainable packaging, waste reduction), research, and risk management (market fluctuations).
As far as local initiatives are concerned, they appear to vary across the provinces and territories as they are influenced by factors such as local agricultural practices, environmental conditions, and government policies. For instance, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association is interested in improving soil health and sustainability while in Western Canada, specifically British Columbia, the BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative holds a keen interest in climate adaptation and the various mitigation strategies used in agriculture.
Although their interests and priorities differ slightly from one another, all the provinces do share one common denominator: focus on the implementation of sustainable and climate-smart solutions like precision farming (rate fertilization), conservation (cover cropping/rotation), agroforestry (carbon sequestration), nutrient management (biofertilizers), water management (irrigation), livestock management (climate-resilient crops), and renewable sources of energy (solar panels, wind turbines).
‘Local initiatives all focus on the implementation of sustainable and climate-smart solutions’
Despite these efforts of the Canadian government, more is needed to realize the full potential of nature-inclusive agriculture: more research, education and policy support are necessary to facilitate the adoption of nature-inclusive practices on a broader scale, as well as continued discussions with relevant stakeholders on nature-inclusive agriculture, such as Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in the Netherlands.
WUR is a leading institution that promotes and researches nature-inclusive agriculture and has been involved in numerous initiatives in support of this approach. For example, the Biodiversity Monitoring on Agricultural Land initiative focuses on monitoring and assessing biodiversity on farmland. By using innovative techniques, such as remote sensing, researchers can accurately measure the impact of nature-inclusive practices on local ecosystems.
WUR has also been involved in studying the impact of flower strips and buffer zones on farmland. This research shows the positive effects of flowers strips and buffer zones in supporting pollinators, controlling pests, and conserving biodiversity. Canada can draw valuable lessons from WUR’s research on nature-inclusive practices. Firstly, biodiversity monitoring programs can provide essential data for evidence-based decision-making. This information can help guide both farmers and policymakers in understanding the impact of agricultural practices on local ecosystems. Secondly, collaboration between researchers, farmers, and other stakeholders, can foster innovation and pave the way for a more resilient and equitable food system. A food system that is ready for future generations.
Would you like to know more about the current developments in the domain of agriculture and nature in Canada or contact the agricultural team at the responsible Netherlands Embassy?
You can visit the country page of Canada at the website agroberichtenbuitenland.nl of the Netherlands ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. You can also send an email to WASfirstname.lastname@example.org
This article is part of the latest edition of e-magazine Agrospecial (June 2023) about nature-inclusive farming. The teams of our Netherlands Agricultural Network showcase nature-inclusive practices and initiatives in 36 countries worldwide. They delve into the development, benefits and challenges of this innovative farming approach. Each team has a different story to tell. Click here to read more about insights into the potential of nature-inclusive farming practices worldwide!