Ensuring families have access to food could revolutionize farms, new research suggests
By Diego Flammini
Creating a national strategy ensuring all Canadians have a right to food could have large benefits for Canadian farmers, new research from British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University (SFU) shows.
Tammara Soma, research director at SFU’s Food Systems Lab, and two of her colleagues interviewed 40 farmers and stakeholders to find out why some food never leaves the farm despite it being a viable product.
For context, Canada loses or wastes about 35.5 million metric tonnes of food each year. This costs the economy $49.5 billion, Second Harvest and Value Chain Management International reported in 2020.
“When food is avoidable waste it means that it’s actually edible and it could have been eaten,” she told Farms.com. “But for various reasons farmers can’t get the food to consumers, so they either till the food under or leave the field unharvested and the food rots. This could be because they overproduce to hedge against risks, or produce being deemed too ugly to sell.”
When it comes to a national ‘right to food’ strategy, Canada is lagging behind other countries.
Canada and more than 150 other countries are part of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Soma said.
Countries and governments involved in this agreement “need to support the food security of their citizens and to avoid food security while also creating an emphasis to support farmers,” she said.
Countries like the Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Sri Lanka and Venezuela have adopted right to food frameworks.
But creating such a framework has to benefit farmers and consumers, Soma said.
Farmers will donate food to their communities but there can be logistical challenges which can include additional costs on top of the cost of production.
A good framework has to pay farmers fairly for their harvests while also meeting the needs of Canadians, Soma said.
“Farmers need to get paid well and have alternative sources where they can sell their product and ensure stability,” she said. “One farmer mentioned to me if we had a national school food program, farmers could sell food directly to local schools.”
A school food program is the next step in Soma’s research.
Her team received a grant to begin a farm to school study to better understand the potential of scaling up food procurement from farms to schools in British Columbia and changing how food is distributed to some communities.
“Many children in Canada go to school hungry,” Soma said. “A lot of the work in this realm is about food rescue but waiting for food to be rejected is not sustainable and the people who are food insecure will continue to be food insecure unless there’s a stable way of ensuring they can access food and farmers can be paid properly for their produce or crops.”
Soma’s team will begin research this summer and hopes to have some findings to report by fall 2021.