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Federal Budget 2019: Peanuts for the North

March 27, 2019
By: 
Émilie Parent
Indigenous Partnerships Project manager
Center for Social Innovation in Agriculture at Cégep de Victoriaville (CISA)
Simon-Louis Lajeunesse
Senior Project Manager
CISA

The Canadian government and food security policy

We salute the Canadian government’s efforts to establish a food policy for the country. This new policy will include supporting the development of food security in northern and aboriginal communities.

In the budget, $15 million over five years will be distributed to enable Indigenous and northern communities to develop community-based projects to address food insecurity. The projects will include the purchase of community freezers and greenhouses. It will also provide training for Indigenous agricultural producers. In addition, there will be funding provided to encourage the continuation of traditional hunting and fishing activities.

This funding, however, represents only 10% of the total provided in the 2019 Federal Budget for food security initiatives. Yet, indigenous groups have a greater prevalence of socio-demographic risk factors for food insecurity (low level of education, low income, limited access to education). So even though they are the communities that need the most investment to develop their food system, they will receive only a tiny portion of the 2019 budget in this category.

Food Security or Food Sovereignty
Food security is therefore a major issue according to the federal government. However, this concept only addresses the lack of food and not the reasons behind northern hunger. Food security can be present even if the food is not fresh or healthy. For example, in some indigenous communities, although sufficient food is available, even well-off households have difficulty eating healthy products. Products imported from the South are too expensive or simply of poor nutritional value. Food availability and access are not the only barriers to the consumption of healthy and culturally appropriate food (anchored in the values of a community). The concept of food security does not address power relations in food systems. In order to address the injustice and abuse of power related to the production and consumption of food, there is a need to turn more to the concept of food sovereignty. This would recognize political barriers to local food control and encourage communities to take responsibility for their food chains. Such a process would require a major investment, well beyond the $15 million over five years promised by the 2019 budget. The training of First Nations experts in agriculture would in itself require such a sum. Yet the Canadian government continues to promote a distorted approach, confusing security and food sovereignty. Two visions of the future of aboriginal communities are in opposition here: one in which they would be well-nourished aboriginal communities but still dependent on the south for their nourishment, and in the other vision, communities regaining their autonomy and thus their sovereignty.

Communities are aware of issues related to food, such as public health and economic development. They know that the health of future generations will depend on a drastic diet change, since current First Nations diets promote obesity and the emergence of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Communities must therefore receive the necessary support to develop community and commercial infrastructure that will meet their real needs. Thus, it is a whole local and regional food system that needs to be developed.

With the new food policy, the government intends to support initiatives related to traditional food. This is a recognition of the importance of these foods in indigenous cultures. The government is also engaging in a process of reconciliation with the communities. However, some territorial components are lost forever. Flooded land will never become a successful hunting ground again. In addition, communities are firmly part of the market and wage economy. Access to the land can be preserved, but alternatives need to be found to offset the percentage of traditional foods that will no longer be consumed. This percentage of food must be fresh and come from the communities themselves. To do this, they will require much more than $15 million over five years to develop the workforce and install the necessary infrastructure.

It is therefore a question of integrating the various components of the budget concerning indigenous communities into a food policy geared towards them. Only a consistent approach, funded for at least ten years with large sums of money, can help these communities build the food systems they need to thrive.