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Canada positioned to lead charge in global fight for food security

By Dave Smardon      

Agricultural and agri-technology are becoming more integral to Canadian and global sustainability and stability.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke met with local officials in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 12, and delivered food and water to local residents. Climate change has an effect on food security in places like Puerto Rico where Hurricane Maria wiped out 80 per cent of the island’s agriculture industry. DHS photograph courtesy of Jetta Disco
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As the earth adapts to emerging challenges that threaten our food supply, it is clear we need to put together a comprehensive and proactive plan that will ensure food security for years to come.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defines food security as “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

In Canada, most of us have yet to fully contemplate a disruption to our food security. Yet, with nearly one billion people around the world deemed undernourished, and that number only expected to rise, it is only a matter of time before Canadians are affected.

The FAO projects that by 2050, population and economic growth will result in a doubling of demand for food globally. As demand rises, so will prices. Arable land and water will become scarcer and current farming methods will no longer be able to sustain us.

Additionally, climate change only serves to exacerbate worries of food security. Despite what naysayers might argue, glaciers are melting, the permafrost is thawing, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather patterns are wreaking havoc around the world. Recent hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes in the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean have devastated or wiped out entire crops and farming regions. In fact, Hurricane Maria has reportedly wiped out 80 per cent of Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry.

A growing population, urbanization, and climate change increase the risk of epidemic outbreaks, including crop and livestock disease, which, in turn, threaten food supply.

Yet it is not all gloom and doom. Remarkable innovations in the agri-tech field can mitigate many of the risks to the food supply, but these innovations will rely on investments by, and support of, public and private funders.

Investing in agri-tech is not only sound from a business perspective, but it also makes sense as a social-impact initiative. Providing funds for technology, strategy development, training, and other assistance, is the best defence against the very real threat of food-supply decimation.

The Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has several initiatives to help support the country’s agricultural sector. The current program, Growing Forward 2 (GF2) and the one to follow, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, for example, offers funding for research and innovation in agriculture.

Additionally, regional development agencies under the Innovation, Science, and Economic Development portfolio provide regionally tailored programs that bolster economic development, including agri-tech advancement.

Currently funded by GF2, Bioenterprise Corporation, a not-for-profit accelerator that supports early-stage agri-tech businesses in Ontario, also received funding in 2016 through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev) to deliver a seed fund program, and in 2015 by the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program delivered by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program, to expand nationally.

Those funds have helped support businesses across Canada to bring innovations to market that serve to aid in bolstering food security, not only in this country, but internationally.

One of Bioenterprise’s clients, Anatis Bioprotection, creates all-natural pest-control products, which offer farmers greener alternatives to conventional insecticides. A Bioenterprise seed fund recipient, the geofencing app from Be Seen Be Safe, makes it simple for farms to track visitors, so a minor livestock disease outbreak can be checked before it becomes a full-scale epidemic. Another client, Terramera, develops high-performance biopesticides for agriculture, bee health, and public health by harnessing the power of natural plant defences and innovative chemistry.

Remembering that these businesses are in their infancy, it is exhilarating to see how an acceleration firm can assist them in prospering and generating real change, not only in Canada, but internationally.

According to the 2012 State of Science and Technology in Canada report, prepared by the Council of Canadian Academies, Canadian research in agriculture, fisheries, and forestry ranks second in the world. Additionally, Canada’s status as an agricultural powerhouse is unwavering and now it is rising to meet today’s geopolitical challenges.

While we remain proud of our Prairie wheat and P.E.I. potatoes, we are also making boundless strides in agri-tech. We’re building bio-cars from agri-based fibres. We’re creating innovative solutions to advance the health of food and animals and improve human food safety. We’re cutting carbon emissions by finding valuable uses for agricultural wastes, and we’re developing tools to boost agricultural productivity.

We are fortunate that the federal and provincial governments in Canada have had the foresight to invest in agriculture and agri-technology, both because it drives economic growth and this industry is becoming more integral to Canadian and global sustainability and stability. With continued support, Canada will be in a position to lead the charge in the international fight for food security.

Dave Smardon is president and CEO of Bioenterprise Corporation, a Canadian agri-tech business accelerator.

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