April 21, 2008
Provincial Food Politics
British Columbia MLA Calls on Farmers to Unite and Challenge the Dismal Provincial Support for Agriculture.
At first it appeared like a swell idea; globalize the food system and weed out the inefficient farmers around the world. "Specialize" was the operative word.
Today, it has become quite apparent what folly the idea was. We can now shudder at the sight of fallow land, struggling and aging farmers, and multi-national corporations encouraging farmers to rat on their neighbours who may be infringing on seed patents. Worst of all, we see populations of eaters itching to purchase and support local farming but are thwarted because little local food is available.
What then can farmers do to respond to this poor state of affairs other than continue to produce food?
Corky Evans is a British Columbia Member of the Legislative Assembly and the NDP Opposition Critic on Agriculture and Lands. He is calling for farmers to unite and form a common voice.
Evans has a long history in provincial politics. Most recently he was elected to represent the Nelson-Creston riding in 2005 and served as the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries between 1998-2000.
On a recent speaking tour across the province, Evans resurrected an important history of politics and farming to lend strength to his vision for unification. "Support for the business of farming as provincial policy is lower than it has ever been in the history of British Columbia," says Corky Evans.
Evans is referring to the funding that the province re-injects back into agriculture. Every province determines a percentage of agricultural GDP that goes back into sustaining and promoting food production. The national average among provinces is 16.4% yet the BC government only reinvests 4%; the lowest in the country. "This means there's no money here for experimental farms, or for new varieties that fit into our ecosystems, no money for extension services: All that is dead," says Evans.
According to Evans, Canada as a whole is not much better off. Compared to the rest of the globe, we rank third from the bottom in support for farming.
However, some farming groups are taking action.
On January 26, 2008, the BC Fruit Growers Association (BCFGA) passed a motion that read; "Therefore be it resolved that our provincial government recognize the importance and potential of this diverse industry and its contribution to our overall GDP, our environment and the well-being of the population, and so immediately increase the funding of the Agriculture Ministry in line with the average of other provincial governments, at 16.4 percent of agriculture GDP, and use these funds to help to increase the productivity and efficiency of our diverse agriculture sectors."
While the efforts of the BCFGA are an important step to nudge Gordon Campbell's government into taking a more serious stand on food production, standing alone as fruit growers and speaking for farming as a whole is a new phenomenon. Evans believes a more unified voice on farming will have a greater impact. Only in the last 30+ years have farmers become divided from one another and Evans insists that the political strength of a divided group is zero.
"In most places, it would be assumed that if a person ran for office, they would have to have a platform to help farming," says Evans. "In British Columbia, it's [now] irrelevant according to the political agenda." Evans believes this to be the product of a "shattered sector".
The first voice of farming in the province was The Farmers' Institute, which, eroded to become the now-defunct Federation of Agriculture. Evans uses the Federation as an example of the power that farmers once maintained and could exert yet again. "[The Federation] acted like a political party and they had leadership, and they had political objectives, such that, no political party could run for office without a farm agenda," says Evans.
Evans believes the divisions among farmers have led to food production having an "impotent" voice in influencing provincial policy. "In thirty years," says Evans, "agriculture itself went from being a whole bunch of people who met on what they had in common to a shattered industry who never meets, and when they do, argues for [their] sector."
He stresses that the time for unification is now. "We have a broken sector at a time of monumental opportunity," insists Evans. This 'opportunity' is the growing interest among Canadians to support farmers and to become more involved in supporting more local and responsible food systems.
Until then, it appears that the Province of British Columbia will continue to support everything that undermines the importance of more localized food production. The 2010 Whistler/Vancouver Olympics seems like a perfect example. It won't be long before official Olympics' sponsors McDonald's and Coca-Cola will exert their heavy hand through their glitzy marketing campaigns. Little explanation should be required to recognize that these two companies epitomize the dismantling of local food systems.
Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. More information on today's topic can be found at (www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/040308.htm).
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