Toward a healthier, more sustainable and more equitable food system
Canadian context and vision
Food systems, including the way food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed, and disposed of, have direct impacts on the lives of people and the planet. Canada’s food system is integral to the wellbeing of communities across the country; robust and resilient food systems support public health, environmental sustainability, and economic growth.
A Food Policy for Canada
In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the Food Policy for Canada (Food Policy), bringing together diverse perspectives to help shape Canada’s food systems. This included engagement led by Indigenous organizations to advance distinctions-based and self-determined food systems, and consultation with Canadians, including direct citizen participation and with organizations from civil society to businesses involved in the food system value chain. The Food Policy is Canada’s vision for a healthier and more sustainable food system – one that builds on a robust agenda to support growth for harvesters, farmers, producers, and food businesses in Canada and ensures a sustainable and accessible food supply for consumers. It is also the foundation for increased integration and coordination of food-related policies and programs.
Food Policy for Canada —vision
All people in Canada are able to access a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious, and culturally diverse food. Canada’s food system is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment and supports our economy.
Decisions about food are made by individuals, organizations, and at all levels of government. Broader linkages and collaboration with all actors in Canada’s food systems increase collective capacity and effectiveness to achieve positive health, social, economic, and environmental outcomes. This can help build healthier and more sustainable food systems that support communities and the economy, and are responsive to unique regional contexts. A central piece of the Food Policy for Canada is the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council that has the expertise and lived experience to bring diverse perspectives to the table to help address food system challenges and opportunities of today and into the future. The individuals that serve on the Council are not representatives of the federal government, rather, they are individuals with backgrounds in the public sector, food industry, and academia or non-profit organizations, among others.
Increasing coordination across government will better enable food-related policies to achieve mutually reinforcing goals. All orders of government, including many federal departments, are taking actions to address food system issues, for example, through: income support programs that address food insecurity by reducing poverty; policies to improve food environments (quality, availability and affordability of foods available to consumers)Footnote 1 to support healthier food choices; initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate environmental impacts, including in the agriculture and food sector; and investments in innovation to increase the agriculture and food sector’s capacity to produce high-quality food. A major cornerstone of agricultural programming and collaboration between the federal government and provinces and territories is the $3-billion, five-year Canadian Agricultural Partnership, which comes to an end on March 31, 2023. It will be replaced by the Next Policy Framework (NPF), another five-year (2023–2028) investment by federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments to strengthen and grow Canada's agriculture and agri-food sector.
While a wide range of actions are underway, more needs to be done. Reports indicate that one in 11 Canadian households experience moderate or severe food insecurity due to economic constraints;Footnote 2 almost two in three Canadian adults are overweight or obese;Footnote 3 and, over half of Canada’s food supply is lost or wasted.Footnote 4 The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food system inequities and vulnerabilities, and threatened livelihoods around the world, leading to growing food insecurity. The pandemic has sharpened our awareness of threats and opportunities, and shone a light on important societal and environmental challenges requiring collaboration and multi-faceted solutions.
Food systems and the Sustainable Development Goals
Globally, making progress on food system transformation will help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Canada’s National Pathways are grounded in initiatives to help us do more and act faster, to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all UN Member States in 2015.
In November 2021, at the Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow (COP26), Canada’s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau stated that we must do more and act faster in the face of climate change by reducing carbon emissions and the impacts of climate change, for example through an international carbon market. The imperative to address climate change will impact almost all sectors of our economy. Agriculture and fishing are no exception and are anticipated to be impacted by a changing climate more so than most industries. At the same time, food production is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and needs to be part of the solution to slow global warming and restore the environment.
Approach to Food Policy and UN Food Systems Summit
The Food Policy is based on extensive multi-stakeholder engagement, under the unifying theme of “Everyone at the Table!”. Principles of inclusion and diversity, reconciliation, collaboration, innovation, sustainability, and evidence and accountability guided the engagement process and the development of the policy. These same principles laid the foundation for Canada’s engagement in the UN Food systems Summit (UN FSS), including our approach to the dialogue process.
Over 360 organizations and stakeholders participated in Canada’s eight Member State Dialogues, held between April and June 2021, including representation from across the food system, such as academia, civil society, the food and agriculture industry (representing farmers, fishers and other producers), Indigenous and Northern organizations, and provincial and municipal governments. Additionally, several Independent Dialogues took place, for example: the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph hosted three dialogues (fostering collaboration, food insecurity, and green growth); the Métis National Council hosted a dialogue focusing on food security; and, the Canadian Canola Growers Association and Pulse Canada partnered to host a dialogue titled, “Growing Markets to Transform our Food Systems”. The Dialogues’ organizers developed questions for participants to use as a launching point for discussion on potential commitments and actions for Canada in support of achieving the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The Dialogues focused attention on the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian food system, and on interconnected issues, such as sustainable practices, climate change adaptation and local food production, and the nexus around food insecurity, land use, and Indigenous rights.
Pathways toward progress
Canada’s National Pathways Document includes issues and commitments identified by participants in Member State Dialogues, Independent Dialogues, and through Canada’s engagement in the lead up to the Summit. The pathways outlined below build on the initiatives already underway to promote positive change in Canada’s food systems, and applies a food systems lens towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Food Policy for Canada’s vision. It should be noted that the National Pathways is not a technical document that replaces or duplicates other reporting; instead, it consolidates and clarifies the steps being taken through various avenues to support a stronger, more resilient future. The next section will outline Canada’s commitments and actions supportive of the UN FSS Action Tracks, towards achieving our vision.
Eliminating hunger and reducing food insecurity
There are many factors that contribute towards a stable, accessible, affordable, and appropriate food supply for consumers. However, at its core, in Canada, food insecurity is a function of income and poverty. Household food insecurity is a measure of socioeconomic access, which is tightly linked to other measures of socioeconomic disadvantage. Household income, the main source of a household’s income, and home ownership are the strongest predictors of household food insecurity. In 2017/2018, 8.8% or 1.2 million Canadian households experienced moderate to severe food insecurity – this number rises to 12.7% when we include marginal food insecurity, which is also demonstrated to have health and social impacts. The burden of household food insecurity is not distributed evenly among Canadians. For example, food insecurity is more prevalent among households where the respondent identifies as Indigenous (28.2%) or Black (28.9%) and among households with children. Food insecurity rates also differ by geography. Rates are higher than the national average in Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Yukon and Northwest Territories, and rates are highest in Nunavut, where almost 50% of households experience moderate or severe food insecurity.Footnote 5
Canada has several success stories of what we have achieved to address the income-based drivers of food insecurity. A range of income supports have resulted in improvements to food insecurity rates among those who are most vulnerable to food insecurity, including the Canada Child Benefit, the Old Age Security Pension, and Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors. During COVID-19, the Government enacted the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to provide $2,000 per month to people who lost their jobs or most of their income because of the pandemic. Additionally, the Government of Canada invested close to $300 million in the Emergency Food Security Fund to support food assistance organizations to address the immediate needs of Canadians, and $50 million in the Surplus Food Rescue Program to help redirect food surpluses caused by supply chain disruptions during the pandemic to organizations addressing food insecurity.
To build on this progress, Canada will work with stakeholders and partners towards the commitment in Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy - Opportunity for All - to achieve a 50% reduction in poverty by 2030 relative to 2015 levels. Food insecurity was designated as an indicator in the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and since its launch, Statistics Canada has introduced an annual food insecurity measure in the Canadian Income Survey to improve data collection and analysis of household food insecurity. Improved data collection can strengthen existing initiatives and identify new opportunities to target those who will benefit the most and reduce food insecurity. Those living in the lowest income quintile report the highest rates of marginal, moderate and severe food insecurity (29.9%) compared to the overall population (15.6%). Indigenous populations are overrepresented in poverty and experience higher rates of food insecurity. A national study found that, on average across all regions, 37% of households on-reserve were food insecure.Footnote 6 Other studies found that in Nunavut, the most food insecure region of Canada, 68.8% of Inuit households were food insecure (9 times higher than the general Canadian population);Footnote 7 and, 15% of Métis households were food insecure (double the general Canadian population).Footnote 8
Reducing food loss and waste to support sustainable consumption patterns
Dialogue participants identified many reasons for food loss and waste throughout the food system, including lack of awareness, limits on quantification, operational inefficiencies, misalignment among supply chain actors, inadequate transportation and storage, as well as household consumption patterns. A collaborative approach is needed to prevent food loss and waste while maintaining the highest standards of food safety and avoiding unintended consequences of shifting the problem up- or down-stream in the supply chain. Where prevention is not feasible, there are missed economic and social opportunities when food is discarded, as well as environmental consequences (for example landfill methane emissions).
Reducing food loss and waste through prevention and diversion across Canada’s food systems is a key priority. The Government of Canada has invested over $100 million in initiatives to prevent and divert food loss and waste, through programs such as: the Food Waste Reduction Challenge to support innovative business models and technological solutions; the Low Carbon Economy Fund which supports organics recycling infrastructure projects; and, the Surplus Food Rescue Program, which redistributed eight million kilograms of food to food banks and community food organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada’s agriculture and food sector is beginning to include food loss and waste reduction in their operational processes and corporate responsibility efforts. Several provincial and territorial governments (for example, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec) and municipalities are also taking action, including consumer awareness and education campaigns and setting targets to divert food loss and waste from landfills.
To build on actions to date, Canada plans to launch a No-Waste Food Fund to help all players along the food supply chain to commercialize and adopt ways to eliminate, reduce or repurpose food waste. The new Fund could help Canada achieve a more circular food economy, that conceives of the food system as a closed-loop system rather than as a linear “take-make-dispose” model.Footnote 9 Building on lessons learned from the Food Waste Reduction Challenge, this approach designs food loss and waste out of the system by preventing it at the source, recovering value through alternate uses, and diverting any residual waste away from environmentally harmful disposal streams. Areas of focus could explore enabling actors along the food supply chain to commercialize innovations and adopt technologies and practices to eliminate, reduce, or repurpose food waste.
We heard from dialogue participants that a national strategy to reduce food loss and waste could establish a consistent approach to defining and measuring food loss and waste, build collective commitments through specific reduction targets, and align efforts across all orders of government and stakeholders. Canada intends to build on this important dialogue and explore options towards the development of a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Strategy.
Strengthening Indigenous food systems
In seeking to move faster on the path of reconciliation, it is fundamental to continue to support distinctions-based and self-determined approaches by First Nations, Inuit, and Métis partners for a long-term, cohesive and sustainable approach to food security and food sovereignty. Canada recognizes and supports Indigenous food systems as a way of life that is important for culture, health, identity and well-being. This aligns with the Government of Canada commitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), supporting rights of Indigenous peoples to participate in traditional food practices, and supporting food system self-determination (food sovereignty). Actions to strengthen Indigenous food systems are guided by reconciliation and supporting First Nations, Inuit and Métis food systems self-determination, as well as better integrating traditional knowledge into planning and policy decisions.
Indigenous-led food initiatives, such as the Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy, make an important contribution to improving Indigenous food systems and food security. In 2019, through the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, Canada and Inuit established the Inuit-Crown Food Security Working Group to provide a whole-of-government approach to the issue of food insecurity, leveraging the contribution of multiple Federal Departments and Agencies as well as Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the four regional Land Claim Organizations, Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, and the National Inuit Youth Council. Of note, the Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy is aligned with the outcomes and deliverables identified in the current Inuit-Crown Food Security Working Group Work Plan, approved by federal ministers and Inuit leaders in December 2020.
Many Indigenous peoples in Canada live in remote areas where traditional knowledge, creativity, adaptability, and innovation have been key to survival and success. Policy decisions around land use, industrial development, and conservation or habitat protection have important implications for conserving access to traditional foods and maintaining biodiversity. The concept of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) was advanced during the dialogue process as an innovative solution to address these complex and interrelated issues. IPCAs jointly managed by Indigenous peoples and either the federal, provincial or territorial governments could provide a meaningful way forward on land use and conservation. Unlike conventional parks or conservation areas, IPAs preserve the environment through the application of Indigenous knowledge systems and values and allow for sustainable harvesting. Canada has established one such IPA, the Edéhzhie Protected Area, through the Nature Legacy Program, ensuring that the relationships between the Dehcho Dene peoples and the lands of Edéhzhíe are maintained for present and future generations. The Edéhzhíe Protected Area is 14,218 square kilometers, covering an area more than twice the size of Banff National Park. Twenty seven additional communities are receiving funding through the Nature Legacy Program to establish IPCAs in locations across the country, while another 25 are receiving funding to help undertake early planning and engagement work that could result in additional IPCAs.Footnote 10
Traditional country foods that are produced outside of commercial markets have an important place in Indigenous-led food systems. Actions to support traditional food include a $40 million investment by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs in the Harvesters Support Grant to increase access to country foods by providing funding to support traditional hunting, harvesting and food sharing in isolated communities. The Harvesters Support Grant was developed in direct collaboration with Indigenous partners and respects the inherent hunting and harvesting rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Additionally, Indigenous Services Canada’s Climate Change Health Adaptation Program supports community-led projects that address health impacts of climate change on First Nations and Inuit, with approximately half of these projects directly or indirectly addressing food insecurity due to the close connection between climate change and access to traditional/country foods. With regards to traditional aquaculture, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) issues Food, Social, and Ceremonial Fishing Licenses, allowing designated Indigenous harvesters to catch what is needed for themselves and/or their community. DFO evaluates and consults with the Indigenous Nation on any potential changes to these licenses. In institutional settings, regulations can restrict or prevent the serving of traditional foods in schools, long-term care facilities, and other facilities where Indigenous peoples could benefit from their consumption, due to challenges in complying with national food safety regulations. Additional work is needed in this regard, as there could be important benefits to nutrition, culture and prosperity, as highlighted by the Food and Agriculture Organization in a recently published whitepaper on the topic.Footnote 11
Increasing participation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis in traditional value chains can further strengthen Indigenous food systems and food security. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) offers programs and services to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis who have projects or opportunities they would like to pursue in the agriculture and food sector. For example, the AgriDiversity program is a $5-million initiative to help under-represented groups in Canadian agriculture, including youth, women, Indigenous Peoples, and persons with disabilities to fully participate in the sector. The innovative Indigenous Pathfinder Service is a one-on-one service which connects Indigenous Peoples with AAFC staff who will listen to project ideas and suggest next steps, discuss available agriculture-related programs, services and funding, provide referrals to an industry, trade or scientific expert, and make connections with other federal, provincial and territorial support across the country to help move the idea or project to reality.
The Government of Canada will continue to work with Indigenous partners to co-develop policies, programs, and initiatives that increase food security on and off reserve, such as local planning and infrastructure for community harvesting, processing, storage and transportation of foods, and other initiatives focused on nutrition and access to food. Immediate commitments include finalizing and implementing a co-developed Inuit Nunangat Policy, and continuing to work with Inuit to improve food security in Inuit Nunangat, including through the Harvesters Support Grant and the Nutrition North Canada program, amended to make it more transparent and responsive to Inuit needs.
Promoting sustainable production
Canada is committed to increasing contributions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% to 45% below 2005 levels and reaching net zero emissions by 2050. The food system, in particular the agriculture sector, must be part of the solution to reduce emissions, while increasing and maintaining carbon storage.
In Canada, one-quarter of a million farmers manage about 68 million hectares of land. Overall, these farmers have considerably improved the sustainability of their soil management practices on land used for crops and grazing, for example, through reduced tillage, restoring degraded land, using legumes and grasses in crop rotations, using rotational grazing, and planting trees and shrubs as shelterbelts. In the year 2000, for the first time in Canada's history, agricultural soils sequestered more carbon than was emitted. This achievement was the result of a strong commitment to address soil degradation, in response to desertification risk and devastating erosion during much of the 20th century. Impressively, while GHG emissions per kilo of food produced have declined over recent decades, the amount of agricultural production has increased, thereby resulting in relatively flat GHG emission levels in the sector over time. Most of Canada’s agricultural emissions, collectively accounting for 10% of Canadian CO2 emissions, are from biological processes (including the interaction of nutrients being applied to soils and livestock digestion) and to a lesser extent from the combustion of fossil fuels for farm equipment operation. Continued innovation, development and adoption of on-farm climate-smart practices and technologies have the potential to improve efficiencies, achieve further reductions, and increase carbon storage, while ensuring Canadian agriculture can continue to feed the world with safe and high-quality food.
Canadian producers will continue to reduce the carbon footprint of agricultural practices, with support from the Government of Canada. This will be aided by research, development, and on-farm adoption of nature-based solutions and innovative technologies that build resilience, enable carbon sequestration, reduce GHG emissions, and often generate other environmental benefits. In 2021, Canada launched the 10-year, $4 billion Natural Climate Solutions Fund (NCSF) to support land management activities that simultaneously provide climate mitigation, biodiversity, and human well-being benefits by protecting, sustainably managing, and restoring natural or modified ecosystems. Under this initiative, in August of 2021, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada launched the $200 million On-Farm Climate Action Fund, which directly supports GHG emission reductions by accelerating the adoption of practices improving nitrogen management, increasing adoption of cover cropping, and normalizing rotational grazing.
Under the NCSF, and building on the 2019 Living Labs Initiative, the $185 million Agricultural Climate Solutions Program (ACS) will help develop and implement farming practices to tackle climate change with regional collaboration hubs on farms. Farmers and farm groups will be at the centre of decision making, innovation, and on-farm activities at each hub. ACS includes transferring knowledge to other farmers so that they can deploy solutions that are tailored to their region and promote environmental sustainability and resiliency in the agriculture sector. Through agricultural practices such as shelterbelts or cover crops, farmland can trap and store carbon and reduce greenhouse gases.
Canada will also launch a new Federal Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Offset System to encourage cost-effective domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions or removals from activities that go beyond legal requirements and business-as-usual practices and that are not covered by carbon pollution pricing, including in the agriculture sector. The system will create opportunities for farmers and other project developers to earn revenue for GHG reductions, and at the same time stimulate innovation and adoption of new agricultural management practices or technologies.
Through cost-shared funding between federal-provincial-territorial governments, over $400 million is provided to support environmental programming on farm. This includes important measures to track environmental practices and encourage change. Canadian provinces have been benchmarking one of Canada’s leading environment programs, the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP), against the internationally recognized SAI Farm Sustainability Assessment tool. The EFP is a voluntary awareness tool and process that has been in place since 2002, whereby producers assess their operations for environmental strengths and risks and develop an action plan to address risk areas. Today, more than 40% of Canadian producers have participated in programs to develop their EFP. While significant progress has been achieved, many farmers have yet to participate in the initiative. Canada will continue to work towards greater adoption of environmental programming on farm.
Research and innovation are changing agriculture and agri-food production to promote more sustainable systems. Researchers and scientists at the federal level within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and other government departments, and in provincial departments of agriculture, universities and in the private sector, seek to better understand Canada’s food-related biodiversity off-farm. This research contributes to sustainable production by using genetic resources to breed new crop cultivars and improved livestock that diminish greenhouse gas emissions and provide increased production with less use of chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Canada will continue to support crop gene banks such as Plant Gene Resources of Canada and the Canadian Animal Genetic Resources Program. Biosystematics collections such as Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids & Nematodes (which houses 15-17 million specimens) seek out and identify agricultural pests and their natural enemies that can be used in biocontrol programs instead of pesticides.
Canada will continue to promote sustainable protein production by facilitating the adoption of beneficial practices and continuous improvement of livestock, fish and seafood, and plant protein sectors, acknowledging that one size does not fit all. For example, regenerative agriculture can have environmental benefits by using a rotational grazing schedule for ruminant animals (for example, cattle) to improve soil health and the growth of native grasses. Canada will enhance the public’s trust at home and abroad about the sustainability of Canadian products by communicating best practices and initiatives, highlighting private-sector initiatives such as the Canadian Roundtable on Sustainable Beef which develops standards, enhances collaboration, and certifies producers. Canada remains committed to healthy and sustainable aquatic ecosystems through responsible, science-based fisheries management. The Sustainable Fisheries Framework promotes and ensures precautionary and ecosystem based approaches are used to keep fish stocks healthy, protect biodiversity and fisheries habitats, and make sure that fisheries remain productive in order to meet current and future needs. In support of healthy oceans and land, the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy provides support to several other initiatives targeted towards preservation and restoration of ecosystems. In close collaboration with provinces and territories, Indigenous communities and industry, Canada will continue to prioritize the growth of the blue economy to create opportunities for freshwater and ocean sectors and coastal communities, recognizing that Canada’s blue economy must be supported by a world-leading conservation plan. This includes protecting, restoring, and rebuilding fish populations through the continued implementation of the modernized Fisheries Act, implementing the Pacific Salmon Strategy, and developing a conservations strategy for wild Atlantic Salmon populations.
Canada will launch a Green Agriculture Plan that will take an integrated approach to addressing agri-environmental issues in the sector, as a means to support the agriculture sector’s actions on climate change and other environmental priorities towards 2030 and 2050. As part of the plan, AAFC will work to increase support to farmers to develop and adopt agricultural management practices to reduce emissions, store carbon in healthy soil, and enhance resiliency; triple funding for clean-tech on farms, including for renewable energy, precision agriculture and energy efficiency; and work with farmers and stakeholders to reduce methane and fertilizer emissions in the agricultural sector. This could pave the way for additional investments, for example, to support innovation and farmer-to-farmer training on beneficial management practices that support soil health, water conservation, natural ecosystem “services” and biodiversity. More broadly, Canada aims to conserve 25% of lands and waters by 2025, and 30% of each by 2030, working to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 in Canada, achieve a full recovery for nature by 2050 and champion this goal internationally.
Throughout Canada’s dialogues, participants raised the importance of clear, transparent and credible sustainability metrics to set shared targets and plans. Canada will work with food system stakeholders and partners towards a commonly agreed-upon set of science and evidence-based indicators and benchmarks on sustainability. One such tool in development is the Agri-Sustainability Index, an initiative spear-headed by industry to benchmark and provide transparency on the performance of Canada’s agri-food system and to continuously improve economic, environmental, and social outcomes. Commonly agreed-upon science and evidence-based indicators and benchmarks on sustainability will be integral to Canada’s Green Agriculture Plan and future investments.
Supporting local food economies
Strengthening local supply chains is a means to bring wealth and jobs to communities across the country. In particular, local initiatives have the potential to generate economic and social returns in disadvantaged communities, while also addressing gaps in access to nutritious, locally produced foods. For this reason, Canada invests in context-relevant support for local community food systems that support vibrant communities across Canada. For example, the Local Food Infrastructure Fund ($60 million), launched under the Food Policy for Canada, is supporting a wide range of community-led projects that improve access to safe, nutritious, and culturally diverse food, such as greenhouses, community kitchens, projects at food banks, and farmers’ markets.
In addition to direct investments in local food economies it is important to consider enabling factors such as the readiness and capacity of regional food actors and the availability of financing and other ecosystem supports. In Atlantic Canada, for example, the economy has many small and medium-sized firms, often located in remote rural areas and with limited access to enabling conditions such as adequate infrastructure, access to skilled workers, and digital connectivity. In addition to the plans stated above, Canada will continue to focus on funding the transportation sector in order to support reliable movement of food, build on local food production and processing to increase resilience, and to work towards the elimination of systemic barriers to entry into the marketplace for underrepresented entrepreneurs (for example Indigenous People, women, youth, people of colour), with a view to designing initiatives that foster equity and diversity in local food systems.
An important issue across multiple jurisdictions in Canada is a persistent and chronic labour shortage in farming and food processing. In partnership with provinces and territories, employers, unions and workers, AAFC will develop a sector-specific Agricultural Labour Strategy to address this issue in the short and long term. At the same time, the Department for Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion will work to implement sector-based work permits and strengthen the inspection regime to ensure the health and safety of temporary foreign workers. And finally, with respect to pathways for agricultural temporary foreign workers, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship will work to expand pathways to Permanent Residence for international students and temporary foreign workers through the Express Entry system.
Food systems can be disrupted at local levels by a multitude of shocks and stressors. These could be due to the natural environment, disease outbreaks, sudden and increased human migration, supply chain disruptions, financial crises, or other causes. Canada can build resiliency by reducing vulnerabilities in the food sector. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified awareness around the importance of essential workers, including temporary foreign workers, throughout the supply chain, and of interdependencies in global supply chains. Canada will help people everywhere participate in food systems that can withstand shocks and stressors to support food security, nutrition, and equitable livelihoods.
Improving human and animal health
Dialogue participants highlighted the importance of food systems and human, animal and planetary health interdependencies. Efforts to improve diets and nutrition must also ensure animal health and environmental sustainability. Opportunities were identified for food system interventions to address broader societal issues, with impacts on health.
Canada is moving towards a “One Health” approach to better integrate environmental, animal and human health considerations in the food system. This will help break down silos and reduce risks of new pandemics, disease outbreaks, and antimicrobial resistance, all of which can have devastating impacts on our food system. Policies will strive to protect the habitats of wild animals at risk, take all necessary measures to prevent and combat new diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease and African Swine Flu not yet present in Canada, and work with all stakeholders against anti-microbial resistance.
In addition to the One Health approach indicated above, Canada uses a suite of measures to improve the nutritional health of Canadians and reduce the risk of diet-related disease, including to support improvements to the food environment and improve healthy eating information. First and foremost, Canada will continue to promote healthy eating that aligns with Canada’s Food Guide. This includes further efforts to monitor factors that impact healthy eating and diet-related disease risk, including elements of the food system, and with attention to disproportional risk in the population. The Centre for Population Health Data and the Centre for Income and Socioeconomic Well-being Statistics are already playing a critical role in regards to the elaboration and establishment of common definitions and standards used to measure progress and allow comparisons across different regions and groups of people in Canada.
Stakeholders and partners also raised the importance of a universal, multicomponent school food program with a scope that goes beyond the provision of food to address broader food system and societal issues, including food literacy, health promotion, equity, environmental sustainability, and connections with the community, as well as with the local food systems, including the agriculture and food sector and harvesting of traditional country foods. A national school nutritious meal program can make important contributions to food security by providing access to nutritious and safe food that meets dietary needs and cultural preferences of children and families, while more broadly improving the health and wellbeing of children and youth. The Government of Canada has committed to engaging with provincial, territorial, municipal, Indigenous partners, and stakeholders to work towards the development a National School Food Policy and work toward a national school nutritious meal program.
Priorities for international collaboration
Canada recognizes that agri-food trade is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Trade enables people to access diverse and healthy diets, reduces the volatility of food prices, builds communities’ resilience to disasters such as floods or droughts, and can help producers in developing countries earn better incomes and reduce poverty. Canada has become a global leader in free trade by leveraging its dynamic domestic sector, and by negotiating 14 bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements with 51 countries.
Given trade’s contribution to sustainability, Canada will work with Canadian and international trade actors, development organizations and local communities to support strong economic agricultural growth and empowerment of farming communities. This includes Canada’s support for the Food, Agriculture, Commodities and Trade Dialogue seeking to end deforestation and conversion of other natural ecosystems while promoting trade and development. In some cases, our trade agreements include progressive measures to ensure small and medium-sized enterprises from developing countries receive technical support to accessing Canadian agri-food markets.
Using a food systems approach, Canada will engage with its international and development partners, including multilateral institutions, to support science and evidence-based practices in five areas of food systems:
- nature-positive climate-smart agriculture
- sustainable value-chains
- inclusive food system governance
- agricultural biodiversity
- safety nets for food security
Canada will deliver on a broad range of climate action and climate finance commitments for developing countries that encourage sustainable land management, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving livelihoods, reducing hunger and malnutrition, empowering women and marginalized populations, protecting and enhancing biodiversity, managing floods, drought and water scarcity, and building back better after COVID-19. Through the strategic and targeted blending of concessional finance, Canada’s climate finance commitment will support efforts to mobilize greater capital for nature-positive investments in the agriculture sector and improve risk profiles for private and institutional investors. Canada’s recent contribution of CAD $55 million will support CGIAR’s new research strategy, which will help to end hunger and build climate smart and sustainable food systems, while putting gender equality at the forefront of global agricultural research and development. Bilateral projects, like the Land4Life project in Indonesia, will continue to contribute to enhancing farmer livelihoods while building more climate-resilient landscapes. At a global level, Canada will work through new and existing initiatives, including the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, among others.
Canada is committed to be a known and relied upon provider of safe, sustainable food value chains in diverse international markets and will seek to advance coherent aid, trade, environment, climate, and agricultural policies. Having more voices at the table is key to progressing at the global level. To that end, Canada will continue to provide support for inclusive global and regional dialogue among diverse food systems actors, and support smallholder farmers to access local and global markets to enable them to retain greater value for their food products, while also promoting women’s rights, empowerment and nutrition.
Canada will continue to contribute to and promote the development of international food standards based on science to support good governance of food systems. In tandem, Canada will continue to advocate for increased supply chain traceability and due diligence in order to better capture food product impacts on the environment (for example tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss), while also encouraging a larger share of imports certified under voluntary sustainability initiatives. Canada will work with donors, development partners, and standard setting governance mechanisms, such as through the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development and Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, to support policy dialogue and capacity building of food system institutions, and enable greater inclusion of Indigenous Peoples, women and girls in food systems governance.
Canada will continue to collaborate on conservation, sustainable use and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources to promote agricultural biodiversity. Canada will continue as an active participant of bodies such as the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Canada recognizes that countries are interdependent for genetic resources that are used by researchers and farmers to breed new crop cultivars and improve breeds of livestock. Only by working at the multilateral level can countries ensure continued access to the genetic diversity that is one of agriculture’s fundamental inputs.
Safety nets for food security (as in a “social safety net”) aim to assure a minimum amount of food consumption and/or protect households against shocks to food consumption.Footnote 12 Canada will continue to support humanitarian and development activities to respond to the current food crisis through nutrition, school feeding, and emergency food assistance programs. These activities will target the poorest and most marginalized and prioritize gender-sensitive approaches. In the context of the current food crisis, at the G7 Summit in June 2021, Canada signed on to the Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Crisis Compact, underscoring our ongoing commitment to better supporting food security around the world. Canada will continue to support emergency food assistance programs that seek to meet the nutritional needs of people affected by crisis, including women and girls. Interventions include providing targeted nutritious food assistance, fortified and ready-to-use therapeutic foods, treatment of acute malnutrition, and cash transfers, as well as other social protection instruments. For example, Canada will continue to partner with the World Food Programme to provide nutritious school meals for children in vulnerable populations as well as to support home delivery of nutritious foods for school children. Programming support is also directed towards improving the nutritional quality of the food supply through incentives for communities’ food production, fortification, bio-fortification and reformulation, as exemplified through Canada’s ongoing work with Harvest Plus to scale-up local production and consumption of bio-fortified crops. Finally, Canada will continue to support response to food systems shocks like those brought on by the pandemic. Canada is supporting a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) COVID-response program that aims to ensure communities most impacted by COVID-19 have sustained access to nutritious food and sources of income, with a focus on women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples.
As part of the Food Systems Summit, Canada has joined a number of Coalitions of Action with global partners that support Canada’s vision for food system transformation. Canada has, thus far, announced participation in the following coalitions: Achieving Zero Hunger; Making Food Systems Work for Women and Girls; Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems; Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C); Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation; and Food is Never Waste. Canada will continue to explore opportunities to join Coalitions to advance resilient, sustainable, and equitable food systems.
Approach to achieving the Pathways
The UN FSS process has enabled a deepening of collaboration among food system stakeholders that can, together, make real change to the benefit of the people, our economy, our environment, and our health. Stakeholders and partners across Canada, including industry, civil society, Indigenous partners, among others, have committed to continually advancing safe, secure, nutritious and sustainable food systems through collaborative approaches, recognizing the interconnectivity of food systems, and the strength brought forward by diverse perspectives. As we move into a new phase of food system transformation at a global level, we recognize that additional efforts and focus will be needed.
Our vision is that all people in Canada are able to access a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious, and culturally diverse food, and, that Canada’s food system is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment and supports our economy. We must break down silos and build partnerships to achieve this vision and reach the Sustainable Development Goals. This National Pathways Document builds on Canada’s existing commitments and initiatives to address key challenges we face in food systems over the next decade.
We drew several broad lessons from the UN FSS process that will inform our implementation of the commitments we have laid out in this document:
- Diversity: There is no “one size fits all” policy solution and agriculture varies greatly from one region to another, as do cultures and cuisines, local food systems and provincial, territorial, municipal, or Indigenous-led food policy environments.
- Measurement and data: There is a need for better metrics on all issues but especially on the different dimensions of food security, sustainable production and food loss and waste. Common definitions, and precise ways to establish baselines, enable comparisons and measure progress, are essential if we are to identify pathways for sustainability that are appropriate for the national level, and for targeting programs and policies to meet regional and demographic needs.
- Innovation and rediscovering: There is a multitude of innovative projects in all regions of the country, whether these are community food projects, new technologies, sustainable farming practices, genetic research, or other measures; there is strong support for policies that reward innovators, especially farmers. Some of these ideas are not new, but are being rediscovered through community-based and citizen-led projects that shift the discussion of food systems away from scale, efficiency and profitability towards respect for local knowledge and environments.
- Coherence: Food policy crosses many levels of government and many departments, making it challenging to sustain coherence across policy arenas. Each government department has only a piece of the puzzle, making inter-departmental and inter-governmental cooperation critical for systemic change. This also applies at the domestic-international nexus.
- Collaboration: Getting at the systemic issues underlying our problems with waste, food insecurity, unsustainable practices and food-related health issues will require involvement of everyone: industry, farmers, civil society organizations, educational institutions, researchers, government agencies and citizens.
- Education and communication: Access to information, outreach and engagement on public policies that are designed to alleviate food system malfunctions is key; food literacy, multi-stakeholder forums, farmer-to-farmer training, measures to enhance rural-urban understanding, and recognition for best practices were recurring themes.
Canada looks forward to continued dialogue on food system transformation with the UN and all nations.