This week’s guest commentary comes from Nathan Stevens of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
In a country like Canada with its abundance we seldom consider the importance of food security. Yet farmers know that our stable food supply is the result of hard work and dedication. The Commonwealth Foundation recently commissioned Dr. Wayne Caldwell and Kelsey Lang to put together a paper called “Perspectives on Planning for Agriculture and Food Security in the Commonwealth.” It focuses on the need for food security planning and offers up several tools that planners can use to ensure that their region or country is food secure.
The paper identifies a number of key issues that need to be considered within the context of food security. There are environmental concerns, including climate change and its unknown impacts on food supply, as well as land degradation and the need to ensure we maintain the productive capacity of the land in the future. There is also a huge range of issues that result from human activity. Growth in populations and urbanization create pressures that result in land use change in the form of houses and the aggregates needed to build the infrastructure to support it. This drives the eventual need for farmland preservation if a region is to remain or become food secure.
The need for an Agricultural Plan is one of the central tools of the paper. It takes into account the stakeholders, the assets of region, and can include more than just primary agriculture in its scope. It needs to include an assessment of the policy and regulatory context. The plan also needs vision and measurable goals to succeed.
Conservation easements are a way that interested individuals can initiate the preservation of agricultural lands. The owner places a restriction on their land that prevents future development, from urbanization to mining, logging or cultivation. Depending on the jurisdiction, this restriction is held in trust by either the government or a land trust or a community organization. In Ontario concerned farmers can obtain an agricultural conservation agreement through the Ontario Farmland Trust.
Urban growth boundaries are used to draw a line between urban and rural areas. This tool can reduce urban sprawl and scattered development, and instead create smarter growth patterns that are more efficient from a servicing and infrastructure perspective. Furthermore, these policies can help to encourage infilling of vacant land and the redevelopment of brownfields.
The paper delves into other tools for consideration, including national food documents which takes the concept of an agricultural plan to the national level, and supportive agricultural policies that assist and encourage the success of the agriculture sector.
Ontario is a prime example of a region that has become highly urbanized with intense development pressures. While there are many good tools that exist in the province, from the Greenbelt Plan to the work of the Farmland Trust, the coordination of efforts to ensure that Ontario can be food secure into the future is not as strong as it could be. The incredible diversity of production in the province provides tremendous opportunity for Ontario, if we are willing to work towards having a plan that provides a food secure future.