Home Page Election 2019 News Opinion Foreign Policy Politics Policy Legislation Lobbying Hill Life & People Hill Climbers Heard On The Hill Calendar Archives Classifieds
Hill Times Events Inside Ottawa Directory Hill Times Store Hill Times Careers The Wire Report The Lobby Monitor Parliament Now
Subscribe Free Trial Reuse & Permissions Advertising
Log In
Opinion

Canada won’t meet its UN Sustainable Development Goals, 2020 biodiversity targets unless it takes urgent action

By Martin Settle      

The good news is that some urgent action may be simple, such as supporting on-farm seed diversity.

Julie Gelfand, Canada's federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, pictured in Ottawa. The Hill Time photograph by Andrew Meade
Share a story
The story link will be added automatically.

Canada will fail to meet both its UN Sustainable Development Goals and 2020 biodiversity targets unless it takes urgent action. That is the conclusion of Julie Gelfand, Canada’s federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, in two reports recently tabled in the House of Commons: “Canada’s Preparedness to Implement the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals” and “Conserving Biodiversity.” The good news is that some urgent action may be simple, such as supporting on-farm seed diversity.

In her report, Gelfand highlights that investing in sustainable agriculture and on-farm biodiversity are strategic ways for Canada to meet its ambitions for a “clean environment and a strong economy that leaves no one behind.” Gelfand specifically recommends that Canada review or develop indicators to better protect on-farm biodiversity. The international community agrees. Last month, the UN’s FAO Symposium concluded that investing in sustainable agriculture contributes to 15 of the 17 SDGs and also enhances biodiversity.

On-farm biodiversity starts with seed diversity. Crop biodiversity is rapidly vanishing. It shrank 75 per cent over the 20th century and the FAO predicts one-third of what is left could disappear by 2050. This tremendous loss of agricultural biodiversity exposes us to crop failure and food shortages in unpredictable and rapidly changing environments. We must reverse this trend, and quickly.

In recent years, Canada’s seed diversity efforts have primarily focused on off-farm conservation of key commodity crops. Both on-farm conservation and overall crop diversity have been overlooked. Canada must take serious measures to support on-farm seed conservation across the country, including funding for public research and breeding programs. Farmers must be at the centre of this work, because unlike wild biodiversity, agricultural biodiversity hinges on the people who grow and steward it.

Innovative on-farm seed conservation programs are already happening coast-to-coast-to-coast. These programs, led by farmers in partnership with non-profit organizations, are ready to be scaled-up, but they need public support.

The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, supported since 2013 by the W. Garfield Weston Foundation and delivered by USC Canada and Seeds of Diversity Canada is one such program. The Initiative works with a large number of Canadian seed breeders and farmers, as well as with over 90 non-profit groups, academics and others to conserve and diversify Canada’s seed supply. They’ve achieved great results.

Through the Seed Grow-out Program, the Initiative has engaged more than one hundred farmers—including many women, young farmers, and the leaders in heritage seed conservation—in saving, growing-out, bulking up, and adapting to their local conditions 499 different varieties of vegetable and herb seed. This project has also brought under-utilized and forgotten varieties back into production by connecting Plant Gene Resources of Canada (Canada’s seed bank) with farmers across the country, extending the benefits of Canada’s limited investments in agricultural diversity. While the many private partners remain enthusiastic and committed to this work, its long term impact would be secured by government funding/support.

Locally adapted seeds have the capacity to grow well without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides that can harm soil, water, and wild biodiversity. Locally adapted seeds can reduce the carbon intensity of agriculture. Locally adapted seeds open market potential for high-value sales to local food retailers, processors, and restaurants, and make farming a more attractive and viable living.

Investing in the multiple benefits of on-farm seed conservation programs would help Canada remain a leader in climate-smart agriculture, and maintain pace with initiatives elsewhere, such as the European Union’s recent investment of €7.5M in its Liveseed project.

The message from the commissioner’s report is clear: Canada must do more to meet its international obligations. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc have all accepted her findings. The question is: will Canada join farmers and civil society in innovative, locally adapted programs that fight climate change and ensure healthy ecosystems, thriving communities, and a strong economy?

The farmers we work with are waiting and watching. And they are ready to help.

Martin Settle is executive director of USC Canada.

The Hill Times 

Explore, analyze, understand
Charting the CBC’s challenging present and uncertain future
Charting the CBC's challenging present and uncertain future: Where it has been and where it is going provides an insider profile of the struggles faced by Canada’s public broadcaster in the 21st century.

Get the book
Inside Ottawa Directory – 2019 Edition
The handy reference guide includes: riding profiles, MPs by province, MP contact details, both Hill and constituency and more.

Get the book
Spinning History: A Witness to Harper’s Canada and 21st Century choices
An unvarnished look at the Harper years and what lies ahead for Canadians

Get the book
Related Policy Briefings
Agriculture Policy Briefing
Short and informative analyses on policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers, journalists and the general public.

Read policy briefing
Environment
Short and informative analyses on policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers, journalists and the general public.

Read policy briefing
Biotech Policy Briefing
Short and informative analyses on policy challenges that bring background and recommendations to policymakers, journalists and the general public.

Read policy briefing

Politics This Morning

Get the latest news from The Hill Times

Politics This Morning


Your email has been added. An email has been sent to your address, please click the link inside of it to confirm your subscription.

Election 2019 campaign one of the most ‘uninspiring, disheartening, and dirtiest’ in 40 years, says Savoie

News|By Abbas Rana
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she has never seen an election where mudslinging overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, leaving little or no time for policy discussion.

Strategic voting to determine if Liberals will form government, say political players

News|By Abbas Rana
As many as nine per cent of progressive voters could vote strategically in this close election potentially affecting the outcome in more than 100 ridings, says Innovative Research president Greg Lyle.

Turkish offensive should pressure feds to act on repatriation of Canadian citizens in Kurdish-controlled ISIS detention camps, says expert

News|By Neil Moss
The issue of repatriation will be less politically fraught after the election, says expert.

Business tops experience among 2019 candidates, one-third have run for office before

Here’s an analysis of the record 1,700-plus candidates running for the six major parties this election.

Pod save us all: the growing role of political podcasts in election 2019

News|By Mike Lapointe
The Hill Times spoke with some podcast hosts taking a deeper dive into the political nitty-gritty, within a medium that only continues to grow in popularity.

No-shows from Conservative candidate could hurt party’s chances in tight Kanata-Carleton race, say politicos

News|By Palak Mangat
The Conservative's candidate, Justin McCaffrey, has skipped two events, including a debate on the environment, intended to feature all candidates.

For whom will the bell toll in Peterborough-Kawartha?

In a riding where voters are deeply engaged in the political process, candidates avoid the low-hanging fruit and stay out of the mud as they grapple with who to send to the House of Commons.

Singh’s strong campaign an internal win, whatever the outcome, New Democrats say

Jagmeet Singh’s impressive campaign has ‘rescued’ and ‘refocused’ the NDP after the failed 2015 effort, Ed Broadbent says.

The astrophysicist whose polling aggregator is projecting the election

News|By Neil Moss
The mastermind behind 338Canada, poll aggregator Philippe Fournier, is aiming to correctly call 90 per cent of the seats in the Oct. 21 race.
Your group subscription includes premium access to Politics This Morning briefing.