TransPacific Partnership Threatens Food Sovereignty

imagesAlthough the future of the TransPacific Partnership is not at all certain, given the result of the November 8 US election, activists in Canada and abroad continue to keep the pressure on governments, demanding that the deal be scrapped on the basis of its inclusion, among other things, of Investor State Dispute provisions, expansion of patent protection and impacts on dairy farmers.

The House of Commons International Trade Committee visited PEI in October and heard from Trade Justice PEI (of which the Food Security Network is a member), the National Farmers Union and the Environmental Coalition of PEI (both members of the PEI FSN).

The Food Security Network submitted its concerns in writing to the committee. Those concerns included:

  • Promotion of industrial agriculture and harmful environmental effects of potato monoculture
  • Interference with supply management and losses to dairy farmers
  • The effects on democracy and the environment of the Investor/State Dispute System

You can read the whole submission here: PEI FSN Submission – TPP 2016.

Food Banks Use on the Rise in 2016

15032055_1508968812454423_5198844240564184636_nAccording to the most recent report from Food Banks Canada – Hungercount 2016, the number of people in Prince Edward Island relying on food banks has risen again in 2016. Of the 3,370 people helped by Island food banks this year, over one third were under the age of 18. Over a third were employed or receiving EI benefits.

HungerCount is based on a survey taken of food banks, nation-wide, for one week during the year. It provides a snapshot of what is a huge and growing problem of food insecurity in Canada. It serves to remind us that we have yet to address this problem adequately – that as vital as food banks are in meeting the immediate needs of thousands of Canadians, they don’t touch the underlying reasons for household food insecurity.

The recommendations contained in the report should be taken seriously:

  • Develop a National Poverty Reduction Strategy by October 2017
  • Take Steps Towards a Basic Income Guarantee
  • A New Deal for People on Social Assistance
  • Investment in Food Security for Northern Canadians

On a local level, Premier MacLauchlan has stated publicly that he favours the idea of a Basic Income Guarantee – it’s time for his government to take action, and in collaboration with the federal government and community organizations, come up with a plan to end poverty and ensure a livable income for every person in Prince Edward Island. That so many people are experiencing food insecurity in a province so abundant in food is a shameful thing. We have the power to change this, what’s needed is the will.

NFU Concerned About Changes in Lands Protection Regulations

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The National Farmers Union is concerned about recent changes to the regulations governing the Lands Protection Act. In particular they point to the regulation concerning leased land. Up until now, leased land has been counted in the land holdings of both the owner and the person or corporation leasing the property. This changed recently – now the land is only included in the holdings of the person or corporation leasing the property, allowing further acreage to be bought or leased.

Secondly, under the Act, individuals can exclude up to 400 acres of non-arable land from their holdings (corporations can exclude up to 1200 acres). The definition of what constitutes non-arable land was recently changed to include land that has not been cultivated within the past four years. The NFU says that leaves the door open for land used for perennial crops as blueberries and apples to be classified as non-arable and therefore eligible for exemption.

The NFU is concerned that these changes allow individuals or corporations to be in compliance with the Act in ways that are really in violation of the spirit and intent of the Act. For the past several months the NFU has been asking to meet with Premier Wade MacLauchlan to discuss their concerns. Having had no success, they are issuing the following Open Letter to Premier MacLauchlan.

The National Farmers Union (NFU), one of PEI’s major farm organizations, is sending this open letter to Island newspapers in the hope of achieving a meeting with Premier Wade MacLauchlan. This has not been possible through regular avenues of communication.

Since the early spring the NFU has tried, at least six times to set up a meeting by going through the various channels in the Premier’s office; only to get a reply “No. You must meet with the Minister.” This goes against the Premier’s own words that “his door is open to all.”

The NFU is seeking to discuss issues at the forefront of the Island’s number one industry – agriculture. Of particular importance is the land ownership issue: our land – our soil is the source of the food we produce; thus its ownership and stewardship is a concern not only to farm families, but also to all Islanders; currently and in generations to come. The government owes Islanders transparency and accountability when it comes to our land.

The Premier has stated his objective is to make PEI a food island and a major player in the agriculture. It would appear reasonable to assume that the Premier would hope to achieve this goal by engaging with, working with, and listening to all players in the sector.

Thus, Premier MacLauchlan, through a public forum, the NFU respectfully requests a meeting with you; and should you so desire, jointly with Minister Mitchell. We sincerely look forward to a positive reply.

Douglas Campbell,
District Director, District 1, Region 1 National Farmers Union

New Brunswick Releases Local Food Strategy

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Last month the Government of New Brunswick released a 15-page strategy to increase awareness of and availability of locally-produced food in that province. You can read the strategy here.

Although short on detail (how to reduce barriers to getting local food into retail stores; a timeline for increasing local food availability in schools; how the new logo will be monitored), the strategy has been welcomed for what it is – a plan “to improve consumer awareness of local food and beverages, to make more local food and beverages available, and better support for new or expanding food and beverage enterprises”.

The Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and the National Farmers Union and NB Departments of Education and Early Childhood Education; Social Development; Health; and Tourism, Culture and Heritage were partners in the project leading to the development of the strategy.

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Community Spotlight: Tyne Valley Caring Cupboard

PEI’s newest food bank is at the Tyne Valley Presbyterian Church and is an expansion of the West Prince Caring Cupboard, with locations in Bloomfield, Alberton and Tignish. The Tyne Valley Caring Cupboard is open Thursdays from 10 AM to 12 PM.

45 households used the Cupboard in September alone. Volunteers say most clients visit the Cupboard once a month and are employed but struggling to afford food.caring-cupboard

Last year’s Hunger Count from Food Banks Canada, showed that 3,153 Islanders visited food banks in just one month (March) and that 35% of those helped were children. That means 1 out of every 5 children on PEI cannot count on having enough to eat at home.

Read more about the Cupboard and how you can help improve food security here on Salty – The Island’s Food Digest.

The Role of the Family Farm in a Healthy Food System

 

Stela and Reg Meal in the field

Portrait of a Family Farm – Stella Shepard and Reg Phelan

By Douglas Campbell – Doug is a second generation dairy farmer from Southwest Lot 16 where he farms with his wife Kathy, son Tristan, and nephew Tyler. Doug has been an active member of the National Farmers Union for the past 25 years, and is a strong advocate for family farms. He is currently the District Director of the NFU, Region 1, District 1.

In 2016, the world has a population of 7.4 billion with a projected annual growth rate of 1.7%. For the first time in history, more people live in urban centres than in rural communities. Governments see this as a positive, as services can be delivered at lower costs to denser populations. Rural communities and the economy of agriculture have slipped into the background of their planning, seen as negotiable for the good of the bigger economy.

“When tillage begins, other arts follow; the farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” -Daniel Webster, American orator

Agriculture and its farmers are the foundation of our modern economy. The beleaguered farmer has fed the nation.

The urban-rural ratio presents numerous challenges. For urban populations, the most pressing issues are affordable housing, transit and social services. There is little thought given to where food comes from.

But who is going to be able to efficiently, successfully, and affordably feed our massive urban populations? Who will protect the rights of all individuals to access quality food? Who is going to guarantee in a global economy that individual countries retain food sovereignty?

For nearly 50 years, the National Farmers Union has supported the family farm, based on the belief that it offers the best hope for food sovereignty and food security.

It is repeatedly stated that large agricultural corporations, based on economies of scale, can produce food more cheaply. If that is true, then why, according to Statistics Canada, have food prices in Canada increased faster than any other major component of the Consumer Price Index? Between January 2007 and December 2012, food prices rose by 19%, while all other items rose by 10.7%. Independent farmers did not benefit from that increase.

Under the corporate system, land becomes a commodity controlled by the highest bidder. Where will we be when only a few control the land base? They will dictate who eats and who doesn’t; what is produced and what isn’t. Corporations are about profits, not people. It will become the basis of social unrest.

A diversified family farm can be a more conscientious steward of the land. Single crop farming, often the method of big corporate farms, frequently results in the overuse of fertilizer, chemicals and water. The total cost to produce food rises as yields decrease. Costs are passed on to the consumer. As land is depleted so is the quality of the crop being produced.

The current PEI vision is one of producing one or two crops for the export market. And yet we know that monoculture presents environmental and pest management problems and leaves us open to the dictate of the markets. Government is selling PEI as a “Food Island” with even greater export potential.

Our local markets must not be overlooked. Why is the family farm disappearing, and what is disappearing with it?

Since the end of World War II, the federal government has had a cheap food policy believing that lower food prices could be achieved with greater efficiency on the farm. And farmers, in the hope of prosperity, have bought in. Policy makers kept pushing for bigger and bigger units and scales of economies, which gave corporations their foothold. They are now in the driver’s seat. The losers have been farmers and rural communities. It can be clearly seen in Prince Edward Island where rural communities are struggling.

As farmers decrease in numbers, so does their political influence. If food sovereignty is to become a reality, all Canadians have to become aware that it is in their interest to support independent farmers. If unfair trade agreements are going to be prevented and Canada’s food sovereignty protected, Canadians must become aware and voice their concerns to government. While Canada may be a trading nation, farmers’ profits and independence should not be used as a negotiating tool to sell more consumer goods to world markets. The family farm is not a quaint way of life that has outlived its usefulness. History has proven it is the backbone of this country and history always comes full circle.

Seeds of Community

Lorna McMaster was one of the farmers who took part in a panel discusgreen-beauty-snow-peasion at out Annual Meeting in April. She introduced the new PEI Seed Alliance and talked about how seed saving and food sovereignty are connected.

When Lorna moved to Prince Edward Island in 2010, she brought with her one packet of seeds of Painted Mountain Corn. In 2015, after five growing seasons, she harvested 2 tons of corn – all from that original packet. She and her partner Brian have a taco stand at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market.  Their handcrafted tacos are made entirely from ingredients they grow, from seed they have saved – the Painted Mountain corn, Agate Pinto Beans, and seasonal greens.

Recently Lorna and some other local organic farmers started the PEI Seed Alliance – a collective that is currently producing seed for gardeners but is looking at producing for farmers over the long term. Members of the Alliance grow open-pollinated and heirloom varieties adapted to PEI’s growing conditions. The Alliance is part of the global movement for seed sovereignty, and believes that seed, the root of our food system, is a public trust.

The Alliance is also a great way to open up a conversation among people who are already saving seed. And there are many people who have been doing this – Lorna talked about one woman who when she saw the Alliance’s seed for sale, said that she has been growing her grandmother’s seeds for years.

At the beginning they started with certified organic seed, but that has been a bit limited, and they are looking for diversity so they are including non-certified seed growers who are farming ecologically.

The Alliance aims to become self-supporting but to start things off, there has been financial support from the Bauta Family Seed Initiative through USC Canada. 1/3 of all seed sales go back into the Alliance. Seeds are sold at the Farmers Markets in Summerside in Charlottetown and at the Voluntary Resource Council and at events such as the Dandelion Festival.

Why is this important? Varieties of foods, and seeds are disappearing at a very high rate. Diversity is declining. This has implications for food sovereignty. Seed savers and local seed producers can produce seeds for crops that are adapted to local growing conditions. At the same time, large seed companies are getting bigger and bigger, buying out smaller independent companies. That puts a lot of control in the hands of big corporations, taking that power out of the hands of people producing food on a small scale at the local level.