Technologies to translate food policy into sustainable food production: National and regional perspectives on partnerships to ensure Canada’s food security

Published On: April 2024Categories: 2024 Editorial Series, Editorials


Emily Nanne


Business Development and National Indigenous Relationship Manager

LN Saint-Jacques

La Centrale agricole

General Director

Adam Picard-Jourdain

Services-Conseils Uashuanashk


Richard Giunta

LBM AgTech

CEO, Co-Founder

Dr. Lakshmi Krishnan

National Research Council, Canada (NRC)

Vice-President of Life Sciences

Kelly Soanes

National Research Council, Canada (NRC)

Director, R&D

A collage of five headshots, two white men, a white woman, a latino man and an indian woman, and a non-binary white person
Disclaimer: The French version of this editorial has been auto-translated and has not been approved by the author.

Canada is not immune to the challenge of food insecurity. Indigenous families, above the poverty line living off reserve (31%), were twice as likely to be food insecure compared to non-indigenous families (Stats Can, Nov 14, 2023). For households in Nunavut, food insecurity levels are estimated to reach above 50% for the households in Nunavut (Pub No. 2020-47-E).  

The complexity of regional and household food insecurity, in any country, is directly linked with a number of social and economic disadvantages, including poverty, access to and availability of nutritious food, rising costs, environmental degradation and climate impacts.  When communities have sustainable, self-reliant food production, it enables economic independence, creates empowerment and strengthens the community by addressing challenges in accessing food grown in other jurisdictions and disruptions faced by critical supply chains.  

There are many fruits and vegetables grown in northern communities; however, they often do not remain in the region due to lack of infrastructure for storage and processing.  Much of the food produced is “exported” to southern regions, with limited amounts of the processed products returning to the site of production. For more localized food to remain in the region it is produced, increased storage and processing capacity is required.  Although the immediate target is northern and isolated communities, there is the opportunity to create technologies that can dramatically increase production and provide access to a greater range of fresh produce year-round for all Canadians. 

Since food security is a complex challenge, it will not be answered with a single solution.  It will require both the creation of new technologies but also the exploration and improvement of existing technologies in the regions.  This approach directly benefits these communities, drives the commercialization of existing technologies and reduces the dependency on the constant demand for R&D in this sector. To achieve impacts, it will require long term support for technological and infrastructure advancements and investments because Canada lags behind other countries in this space.  Internationally, there is an increase in publications, patents, and capital investments for alternative production systems, providing an opportunity for Canadian technology companies to feed into the global interest from engineering and crop perspectives. The knowledge gained can be applied to design solutions that meet Canada’s unique production needs. Technology platforms that disconnect food production from the environment are critical for Canadians to benefit from year-round regional production.  

Internationally, there are several alternative indoor agriculture production systems currently being evaluated and deployed. These have the potential to address both environmental and economic sustainability challenges through reduction in water and inputs, reliance on complex supply chains, food contamination incidents, as well as packaging and transportation costs. Application of these systems for fresh produce can also enhance the nutritional consistency of products, increase shelf life and reduce waste while significantly increasing yield over traditional outdoor farming practices. However, there are several considerations that need to be addressed for these platforms to have impacts in Canada, including: 

  • limited existing infrastructure in northern and remote communities (e.g., reliable internet to monitor, manage and run the systems; access to fresh water, methods for water purification, supply of clean and dependable energy to heat, light, cool and dehumidify)
  • economic viability of current technologies restricts what can be produced 
  • logistical challenges of food distribution 
  • identification of co-dependencies with any investments that can be a challenge to long-term success (e.g., operational costs, skills training, long-term maintenance)

One potential solution is to create a program to trial new technologies and evaluate market opportunities for products within these regions prior to investing.  This will ensure economic sustainability, increase the likelihood of long-term success, and reduce the risk of disruption to their food systems and local economies. 

Another possible solution is to explore different operating models, such as social enterprises. Such an   operating model was successful in a number of areas across the country, including in Montreal at Centrale Agricole.  However, this does require investment and coordination of stakeholders. For example: communities with larger populations have various ways to make the products available, including schools, local short transportation routes and weekend markets. This is difficult to achieve in communities with small populations. A way to mitigate this is to explore regional hubs or networks to distribute food among various communities or have different specializations across communities so each one does not require all expertise. 

Further, a greater focus should be placed on regional co-development and collaboration strategies to leverage knowledge, science and technology, long-term operational funding and infrastructure investments, in support of the most appropriate technologies. This approach will help ensure that existing strategies are leveraged for long-term successes across the innovation ecosystem, including land users, producers, industry, technology suppliers, science and technology organizations, governments and community organizations.  

Community leaders and governments play a role in convening research and industry partners to create critical mass in research and development.  Additionally, it will be important to understand and incorporate Indigenous culture into solutions ensuring that local needs and dietary preferences are addressed, such as the cultural significance of local plants and what crops should be adapted for year-round production.  

Key gaps identified: 

  • lack of long-running (government funded) programs in agri-food; very few extend past a year – especially with Indigenous programs; application processes are seen as complex, difficult to navigate and inaccessible for remote communities  
  • better communication is needed on the availability of funding options
  • support or reduced reporting requirements to minimize the burden for smaller communities with fewer resources 

Some suggestions mentioned that can help enable the uptake of new technology solutions, include education and engagement of community youth within northern communities; long-term funding programs; and easier, more flexible funding options and cycles. Finally, regular review of the impacts of existing policies are also needed to incentivize locally-produced foods and the development of local economies, ensuring cheaper imported foods are not unintentionally undermining local efforts to provide fresher, higher quality foods. 

In summary, Canada could benefit from increasing regional production of highly nutritious, whole foods like fruits and vegetables. With a small population distributed across a large land mass and a short growing season focused on large acreage crops, creating year-round production would reduce our reliance on  importing food from other jurisdictions that are facing their own challenges associated with environmental degradation and climate change.