Here's why the proper use of Canada's land is essential for food security

Nov 24 2022, 7:12 pm

As Canada continues to work towards net-zero by 2025, it’s important to consider how agriculture can become part of the climate solution. But, it’s complicated. 

Agriculture not only has to juggle becoming net-zero by 2025, but also enhancing our soil, water, air quality, biodiversity, and of course, continuing to deliver a quality food supply. Additionally, Canada has set certain growth targets in the industry, such as plans to expand agriculture exports to $75 billion by 2025. This means any climate solutions within agriculture must balance Canada’s environmental targets against its want for growth — which increases pressure on our natural resources.

Canadian Agri-Food Foundation (CAFF), an organization promoting the betterment in the agriculture and agri-food industry in Canada for the public, is conducting research on how that balance can be achieved.

“Agricultural lands have never been asked to do more,” says Jason Skotheim, Vice Chair of CAFF. “They are being asked to grow more food with fewer inputs, store more carbon, protect biodiversity, and more. Much of Canada’s best farmland is being lost to cities. Forests, wetlands, and sensitive landscapes are being turned into farmland, and grasslands are being broken up for crop production.”

One of the most important factors when it comes to creating a sustainable agricultural system is a clear understanding of how the land in this industry is currently being used in Canada. There should also be considerations for what projected pressures that this land may face in the future. According to Skotheim, agricultural lands can deliver on what they are being asked to do, if the right lands are used the right way and under the right conditions. 

The problem, he says, is that we do not have a very precise accounting of the current state of land use. “Municipal, provincial, and federal governments hold different pieces of data on land use, and different responsibilities for land use policy. Unlike forests, where much of the land is public, agricultural land use involves hundreds of thousands of landowners from coast to coast to coast.”

That’s where RBC’s Tech For Nature can help. This program helps supports new ideas, technologies, and partnerships to address pressing environmental challenges with actionable solutions. They’ve pledged to support CAFF and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute’s (CAPI) Spearheading Sustainable Solutions initiative until 2024 and its ambition to advance policy solutions that support the sector’s ongoing improvements to its sustainability.

“When we think about food security across the country, it’s important to understand the implications on our nature resources,” says Mark Beckles, vice president of social impact and innovation at RBC. “CAFF is focused on long-term, strategic solutions to ensure that our land usage can best support our growing and changing population.

“The Spearheading Sustainable Solutions initiative includes CAPI’s Doctoral and Distinguished Fellowship programs and a project tackling agriculture and land use resiliency while balancing environmental goals with food security,” Skotheim explains.  “With almost 200,000 farms in Canada, this project will help develop the tools and policies to facilitate the right land being used in the right way under the right conditions.”

For example, CAPI will create a Pan-Canadian baseline map that reflects the current state of agricultural lands — including land use, land management, and land condition. From this map, a Pan-Canadian forecast map will be created and include different scenarios and pressures Canadian agriculture could face in the future. This includes different climate change models, agricultural pressures such as international markets, adaptive seed development, water availability and distribution, and different provincial agri-environmental policy implementation. 

“How we produce food is changing the climate, and the climate is changing how we produce food. Agriculture is uniquely positioned in how it bears the brunt of a changing climate but also in how it can be a significant contributor to sequestering carbon and lowering emissions,” Skotheim says. “Effective climate solutions will be the ones that reduce or store carbon, boost productivity, and do it in ways that deliver a quality, affordable food supply. This will not be easy, but families around the world need solutions that achieve it.”

“The more we understand agriculture’s role in reducing emissions and sequestering carbon, the more we understand how climate solutions can also present economic and growth opportunities.”

For more information about RBC’s strategy to support its clients in sectors across the economy in a socially inclusive transition to net-zero and the risks and opportunities it faces, click here.

To learn more about RBC’s Tech For Nature initiative, visit Daily Hive’s Tech for Nature content hub.

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