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The agri-food industry’s recovery from COVID-19

The agri-food industry’s recovery from COVID-19

By enacting five measures, the feds can help food producers and processors prosper after COVID-19, says a spokesperson from an agricultural cooperative

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

A Quebec-based agricultural cooperative is proposing ways the federal government can help the agri-food industry thrive as the country recovers from the COVID-19 crisis.

“The five actions that we proposed for government are part of a reflection … Sollio Cooperative Group has a 100-year-old history,” Ghislain Gervais, the group’s president, told The cooperative has survived and recovered from many crises over the century.

“We have developed five main areas of action for the government to help the recovery of the food producers and food processors,” he said.

Those avenues were listed in a May 26 release:

1. Increasing productivity, including automation

2. Increasing self-sufficiency of the food system while maintaining support for exporters through investments in food processing

3. Developing the vitality of the regions, particularly by speed the improvement of telecommunications infrastructure

4. Supporting a more sustainable economy, involving digital agriculture, and promoting the cooperative business model

5. Promoting frontline skills and jobs to help meet labour needs  

We must remember “that the supply chain was under strain before the pandemic,” Gervais said. So, adopting the recommended strategies may not only help with recovery, but also help address longer-standing challenges like labour shortages, rail disruptions, and market access issues.

Promoting the self-sufficiency of Canada’s food system while supporting exports are “not two points that are in competition,” Gervais said. Canada can reinvest profits from exports into the food processing industry, he explained.

Supporting the cooperative model may offer opportunities for various parts of the food value chain to collaborate and assist one another.

“Cooperation is very important in the agricultural sector,” Gervais said.

Connecting producers and processors can build capacity and enable all parts of the food system to meet common economic goals. Over the last five years, Sollio Cooperative Group has distributed $238 million in patronage refunds to its membership.

“That is an important part of what the cooperative model can do,” Gervais said.

He hopes that the government will use the five action items to provide meaningful support to an important industry.

“We hope for better support for food processing and producers in Canada,” he said. “I think the government didn’t realize the impact that food processing and farming has in Canada. Food processing is the most important manufacturing sector in Canada. Farming and food processing are responsible for about 500,000 jobs across the country.”

Investing in the food industry will allow a relatively small proportion of the population to generate huge value for the country, Gervais said.

“There is a crisis but there is an opportunity,” he added.

For the supply chain to prosper, the government’s recovery efforts must be well targeted.

“These measures are necessary for Canada to increase it’s food self-sufficiency, and also protect it’s capacity and reputation in the world market,” Gervais said.

IP Galanternik D.U.\E+ photo

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