How is Science Tackling Global Food Insecurity? A Canadian Success Story
the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau
Agriculture and Agri-Food
Science has a long history of providing solutions to global challenges. And in the face of the immense challenge of food insecurity right now, I am confident in the incredible contributions of scientists and thought leaders ─ including those like you who make up Canada’s rich innovation ecosystem.
According to the United Nations, nearly 815 million people in the world suffer from hunger. The situation is exacerbated by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine. We are not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of “Zero Hunger” by 2030. On the contrary, two billion people could be added to that number by 2050 unless we succeed in profoundly transforming food production to make it more resilient and sustainable.
This is where Canadian scientific expertise has an undeniable leadership role to play.
This includes helping to produce more food with fewer resources. In Ghana, a country with high levels of food insecurity, the 4R Nutrient Management program has demonstrated this. This program is led by the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada in partnership with Fertilizer Canada.
Bafani Moses, a farmer in the Savanna region of northern Ghana, had never heard of the 4R principles: the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and at the right place.
He used to grow maize, groundnuts (peanuts), soybeans, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes and beans without knowing how to use fertilizer. Now, by practising the 4R principles, he says he produces on one acre of land what he used to produce on five or six acres.
Farmers have received training in different parts of Ghana, Senegal and Ethiopia. Yields are higher and the harvest is better quality. Families have enough food to eat and even extra to sell, which brings in income.
The network of scientists behind the 4R principles includes university researchers, professional advisors and scientists from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and provincial ministries. They have demonstrated that it is possible to produce food using less phosphorus and other non-renewable resources, while improving soil health and reducing GHG emissions from farms by 35%.
This is just one example. If Canada is a leader in sustainable agriculture, it is largely due to our scientific excellence.
It is also because Canada supports the empowerment of women here at home and in developing countries. We help women access education, innovations and economic opportunities. Around the world, women are largely responsible for feeding their families, so their success as farmers, entrepreneurs and scientists is key to improving food security and reaching “Zero Hunger”.
Over the last decades, scientists at AAFC have been able to use plant breeding techniques that enable certain crops to be grown in regions where it was not previously possible. Advances in data analytics, precision farming and other technologies have been game-changers for Canadian agriculture. Advances in post-harvest technology have allowed Canadian scientists to extend the shelf life of food, leading to less food waste. Recently, AAFC scientists and experts at Microsoft discovered the potential of greenhouse farming coupled with artificial intelligence to produce healthy foods like cucumbers with fewer resources.
Agricultural science and technology also contribute to making food systems more resilient. This is at the heart of Canada’s response to the global food crisis. We want our food systems to be more resilient to shocks such as those experienced in recent years, whether they are economic, agronomic, climatic or geopolitical in nature.
In particular, scientific advances are making agriculture more resilient to droughts, heat waves, pests and emerging diseases. For example, I’m thinking of new approaches to mitigating pathogens that affect crops, which AAFC scientists are developing by combining clean technologies and biodiversity.
The future is here. To feed the world today and tomorrow, agriculture must be more sustainable. Environmentally resilient and respectful, economically competitive, and socially responsible.
This is exactly what we had in mind when we launched the Food Policy for Canada. We want all Canadians to have access to nutritious and affordable food. We want our agriculture and agri-food system to be resilient and innovative, capable of protecting our environment while sustaining our economy.
The Policy has already resulted in successful initiatives such as the Local Food Infrastructure Fund. It has funded more than 820 projects to date across Canada, such as community gardens and kitchens, refrigerated trucks and storage units for donated food. The Policy has also funded community-led initiatives like greenhouses to address the unique food security challenges faced by Indigenous and northern communities.
AAFC scientists have supported the Policy, for example, by finding innovative ways to help reduce food waste. They have been using canola waste to produce biodiesel. They have adapted a whey protein recovery process to improve the yield of artisanal cheeses. They are working on solutions to better preserve perishable food throughout the distribution. All of this is part of making our food systems more resilient.
Science will continue to transform the agriculture and agri-food sector. Canada’s scientific community is enriched by experts from a diversity of cultures, backgrounds and perspectives, and it will be called upon to continue its important work to drive the global shift towards more sustainable agriculture.
And more than ever, collaboration will be key.
A challenge as complex as food insecurity requires a more collaborative approach, not only within the agricultural science community, but also among the broader community of climate scientists, natural resource specialists, social scientists, policy makers and others.
Collaboration is what makes our living labs so successful ─ and internationally renowned. At multiple locations across Canada, scientists, farmers, industry representatives and citizens are working together in the field to co-develop and test innovative practices and technologies to address agri-environmental issues.
And for the next 10 years, the Government of Canada is committed to fostering cross-sectoral collaboration and creativity in the scientific community. AAFC has a new Strategic Plan for Science, which will focus the work of many teams around four missions to support a more sustainable agriculture and agri-food system. Through collaboration with industry, academia, producers and Indigenous partners, teams will develop solutions for mitigating climate change, advancing the circular economy, and much more.
We will also be drawing on a range of scientific expertise to develop our new Green Agricultural Plan. We want to help agricultural producers reduce their emissions and increase their resilience, while producing enough food to feed the world. Through an evidence-based approach, we will identify data gaps, develop indicators, and guide the sector toward a sustainable future.
In addition to all this, federal, provincial and territorial governments reached a $3.5 billion five-year agreement to support the sector through the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, which will come into effect in April 2023.
I think of Bafani Moses and of all the other farmers in Ghana, Canada and elsewhere who are now more resilient and productive because of scientists and thought leaders like you. In the future, I know that your work will continue advancing sustainable agriculture and food security at home and around the world, and our government will be there to help you succeed.