The Canadian Agricultural Sustainability Initiative will develop an online platform for farmers and other agri-food stakeholders to track metrics and provide proof of sustainability
By Jackie Clark
The federal government will invest $560,000 in the development of the Canadian Agricultural Sustainability Initiative (CASI), Marie-Claude Bibeau, minister of agriculture and agri-food, announced at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) annual general meeting on Tuesday.
“This new initiative will provide Canadian farmers and processors an online national platform to proactively meet the growing demand for proof of sustainability from customers,” said a Feb. 25 statement from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Work on the initiative started four years ago with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and other food, agriculture, and sustainability groups hiring three consultants to research the concept of sustainability in the agri-food chain. Bronwynne Wilton, principal and lead consultant at Wilton Consulting Group, was the project lead, and she was joined by Robert Hannam from Synthesis Agri-Food Network and David Smith from Orion Global Business Sustainability Consultants.
“We did research on the concept of sustainability in the value chain of the agriculture and food sector. We were looking at it from an Ontario perspective, but through that research everybody resoundingly said it would have to be a national initiative,” Wilton told Farms.com.
At that point the consulting team approached the CFA and the national organization took on a leadership role and applied for the Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding.
CASI is still in the conceptual stage.
“The funding is for further development of the CASI concept,” Wilton explained. The money will facilitate further discussion and information gathering and “allow for further industry engagement across the whole country.”
The federal funding will also allow for some testing of pilot projects over the next year or two.
“Those (pilot projects) could happen at the commodity level or regional level. So that will be an important piece of the project in terms of testing out concepts and how we can align all the sustainability standards with international market demand. And then there’s also funding for communication and knowledge transfer,” Wilton said.
CFA will facilitate a design committee for “stakeholders to help guide the development of the platform,” Frank Annau, director of environment and science policy for the CFA, told Farms.com.
Currently, the development team has “a conceptual vision,” said Wilton.
The program will be in the form of a website farmers can access to input information about their location and operation. If they’ve participated in certain sustainability programs previously, for example the Environmental Farm Plan, farmers would be able to input that data, as well as any additional information about the social, economic and environmental sustainability of their farm.
“This will provide a forum where producers and processors can share information and connect with new networks interested in sustainability. This initiative will also serve as a hub to benchmark and track the sustainability of the Canadian agri-food industry compared to international standards,” the statement said.
“None of that exists at the moment. That’s all a conceptual thing, and that’s where the funding is so important,” Wilton added.
“CASI would ideally be able to benchmark any of those programs against additional,” sustainability standards, Annau explained. Farmers would be able to see which standards they are close to achieving, and take steps to qualify for those sustainability targets.
Producers “could make that (sustainability) information public on the website so potential clients would be able to find them online,” Annau added.
This communication to the marketplace is how CASI can help farmers and commodity groups access economic benefit in return for environmentally and socially responsible business practices, Wilton explained.
“The benefit to the farmers would be that market access would be proactively assured,” she added.
So CASI would provide the dual benefit of encouraging improved sustainability outcomes and acknowledging the work Canadian farmers and agri-food stakeholders have already done to improve the sustainability of the value chain.
“CASI provides a vehicle for that collaboration and conversation about those outcomes, that also ensures the economic success for farmers in terms of market access. And maybe they can even get themselves into a more financially rewarding market by showing excellence at the sustainability standards level,” Wilton said.
Having all sustainability programs involved in a single initiative will allow for efficiency of reporting metrics and reduce the administrative burden on farmers, Annau said. The agri-food industry will be able to use the CASI framework to see how the industry, from individual producers to entire value chains, measures up against sustainability standards.
“Ultimately, CASI will support Canadian food producers’ use of label claims about the safety and quality of their food products,” said the statement.