Saturday, 8 November 2008

A new sustainable agriculture wiki - by CIELAP

The following are excerpts from the new Resilient Agricultural Systems wiki created by CIELAP. It is hoped that this will develop into a useful forum on sustainable farm policy.
diagram: NZ Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture

1. Agricultural Production

Below are examples of a growing movement toward sustainable agriculture, in response to increasingly consolidated farm ownership, declining numbers of new and young farmers, and the costs of environmental degradation.

FarmStart, a non-profit organization based in Guelph, Ontario, works to increase the presence of young and new farmers in Canada by providing the capital, training, and networks necessary to establish and operate their own farm enterprises. FarmStart addresses concerns about an aging farmer demographic; the consolidation of small farms; and the need for more sustainable, locally produced food. Hence, in addition to supporting a new generation of farmers, FarmStart programs promote sustainable business models, coordinate and communicate local market research, and emphasize stewardship. Realizing that there are many economic and structural barriers to conventional farming, FarmStart takes innovative approaches to agriculture, including the introduction of mid-scale, precision-farming techniques; no-till organic farming; and addresses urban or near-urban farms. Another innovative aspect of the program is the operation of two “incubator farms”, on which accepted participants can rent land, on-site infrastructure, and equipment; and receive training, business support, and mentoring for several years before leaving to establish their own farm.

Greencover Canada is a five-year, $110-million national program that offers technical and financial assistance for better managing grassland and sustainable practices. The program has five components:

  1. converting environmentally sensitive cropland to perennial cover,
  2. adopting beneficial management practices in riparian ecosystems (land that is near water),
  3. establishing shelterbelts (trees and shrubs on farmland),
  4. providing technical assistance to provincial projects, and
  5. providing technical assistance to regional projects.

Depending on the program component, a wide range of groups and individuals may apply, including producers, industry, government, non-profit organizations, cooperatives, incorporated environment groups, and educational institutions are eligible for support. Greencover Canada is funded under the Agricultural Policy Framework (APF), which came into force in 2003 as a five-year agreement between territories, provinces, and the federal government. There are 52 programs and services under the APF, which is being replaced this year by an updated plan, entitled Growing Forward.

Established in 1979, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) is a non-profit organization that offers courses, workshops, advisory services, farm tours, and other resources for farmers interested in sustainable agriculture. Its purpose is threefold:

  1. to develop programs that promote ecological farming practices,
  2. to educate the public on environmentally sound agricultural methods, and
  3. to foster information exchange between people interested in ecological agriculture in a supportive community.

EFAO promotes practices such as soil tillage, green manures, cover crops, composting, crop rotations, erosion control and conservation practices. It also runs a library, maintains an organic seed directory, publishes a newsletter, and posts market prices and classifieds on its website.

2. Local Food Systems and Urban-Rural Linkage

Examples of local food infrastructure, including farmers markets, partnerships between farmers and retailers in urban areas, and community-supported agriculture (CSA):

Local Food Plus (LFP), a Toronto-based non-profit organization, works to certify farmers (mostly from Ontario’s Greenbelt) who meet certain social and environmental criteria and links them with local purchasers. LFP’s certification scheme is built on five principles:

  1. employing sustainable production systems (which reduce pesticides and fertilizers, avoid hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering, and conserve soil and water), \
  2. providing safe and fair working conditions for on-farm labour,
  3. providing healthy and humane care for livestock,
  4. protecting and enhancing habitat and biodiversity on working farm landscapes, and
  5. reducing food-related energy consumption.

Certification allows large purchasers access to supply of a guaranteed quality. Thus far, Local Food Plus has certified roughly 70 farmers and distributors, while 29 retailers, restaurants, and institutions in southern Ontario sell certified LFP food.

The non-profit Farm Folk/City Folk Society in Vancouver has been working towards “re-localizing” the food system in BC by supporting community-owned farms that produce food for local consumption, expanding the production of grains in southwestern BC, and educating city dwellers about the benefits of eating locally.

Equiterre is a Quebec based organization that helps to support local food systems through the establishment of community-supported agriculture. Consumers pre-purchase a share of a farmer’s harvest to increase the farmers’ financial security and food is delivered weekly to consumers across the province. There are 97 participating farms, with an estimated 7,500 contracts involving roughly 20,000 people penned this year.

Just Food in Ottawa provides information about resource-sharing for community gardens in the city, develops a food guide to local farms in the area around Ottawa, and, like Equiterre, provides networking for CSA farms in the Ottawa area.

FoodShare, a Toronto non-profit, was founded in 1985 by then Mayor of Toronto, Art Eggleton, and others seeking to address hunger issues in the city. Over the years, it has taken a broader approach to addressing food insecurity by considering how food is produced, distributed, accessed, and consumed. Today FoodShare focuses on self-help programs such as co-op buying systems, collective kitchens, and community gardens, which strengthen communities and help low-income individuals and at-risk youth gain training and employment. For instance, FoodShare operates a program called the Good Food Box, which packs boxes of mainly local and organic food and delivers them to designated neighbourhood locations at reduced rates. Among these and other activities, FoodShare advocates for better social assistance, creates jobs and runs job training, educates people on good nutrition, and supports the preservation of farmland.

There is also growing support for local food from various levels of government. The province of Ontario has pledged to invest $56 million over the next four years to support local food initiatives, including $12 million through the Ontario Market Investment Fund to promote consumer awareness of the importance of Ontario food and $4 million to support farmers markets.

Through the British Columbia Agriculture Plan, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands in BC intends to reallocate $5.6 million over the next three years from existing sources to develop a promotional program to brand BC food, increase extension services provided to farmers, and develop a “food miles” program that educates British Columbians about the distance their food travels.

The Agri-Food Market Development Program launched last year by the province of New Brunswick committed $400,000 to support the consumption of agri-foods produced in the province to help agri-food businesses increase capacity to improve visibility, attract more consumers, increase promotion and advertising, and develop strategic market opportunities.

Earlier this summer the Buy PEI Initiative was launched as part of a $500,000 allocation to support buying PEI foods as well as a regional Buy Atlantic strategy.

Even municipalities such as Prince Edward County in eastern Ontario, which has developed a “Harvestin’ the County” program with services such as the production of a locally grown food guide and map and a logo which distinguishes Prince Edward County produce, are supporting local food initiatives.

3. Valuing Landscape Services

On the broader issue of urban sprawl into farmland: in 2005 the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing established the
Ontario Greenbelt by passing the Protecting the Greenbelt: Greenbelt Act. The Greenbelt permanently protects 1.8 million acres of sensitive land, including farmland, from development. In 2008 criteria were passed to evaluate municipal requests to expand the Greenbelt in the interest of growing this protected land.

Two recent reports have helped to elucidate the monetary benefits that ecosystem services provide to Canadians. The first, entitled The Value of Natural Capital in Settled Areas in Canada, by Nancy Olewiler, provides a compelling case for preserving and restoring natural areas in some of Canada’s most populated watersheds. Dr. Olewiler found that protecting wetlands, forests, grasslands and estuaries in the Lower Fraser Valley, an area of over 16,000km2 which includes the Greater Vancouver Area, could save the region hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in the future. The services provided by wetlands alone in the form of assimilating agriculture inputs such as phosphorus and nitrogen were estimated to be worth at least $230 million per year in forgone treatment costs alone, without factoring in the increased infrastructure costs associated with new treatment plants. Dr. Olewieler came to similar conclusions in the Grand River watershed in Ontario, where the value of ecosystem services was estimated to be $195/hectare/year, in the Upper Assiniboine River watershed ($65/hectare/year), and the Mill River watershed in PEI ($142/hectare/year). The most substantial savings would be gained from saved government payments (less land requiring crop insurance), increased recreational fishing and hunting, and decreased water treatment for phosphorus reduction. These estimates show that there is a significant economic case for preserving ecosystem services across the country.

A second report, entitled Counting Canada’s Natural Capital: Assessing the Real Value of Canada’s Boreal Ecosystem by Mark Anielski and Sara Wilson, was a similar endeavour intended to quantify the value of Canada’s boreal forest, which stretches from Newfoundland to the Yukon. The researchers first calculated the net market values of all activities that make use of the boreal; timber harvesting; mineral, oil and gas extraction; and hydroelectric generation. The net value from these activities amounted to $48 billion per year, however the figure was adjusted to $37 billion after environmental (air pollution) and social (subsidies) costs were included. The authors then calculated the net value of total non-market values of the boreal, which included the economic value of carbon sequestration by forests and peatlands, wilderness recreation, biodiversity, water supply and regulation, pest control, non-timber forest products, and aboriginal subsistence values. The total economic value of these services amounted to $93 billion, approximately 2.5 times greater than the value of resource extraction and hydro-electricity.

Initiatives such as the Agricultural Policy Framework, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the Prairie Conservation Action Plan and many prior government and non-government initiatives have used instruments like land use agreements, conservation easements, land purchase and leasing, property tax credits and others to recognize and reward provision of EG&S by Canadian farmers for over 20 years.

On November 18, 2005, Canada’s first pilot project seeking to protect and restore ecosystem services on agricultural land (known as Alternative Land-Use Services or ALUS) was initiated in the Regional Municipality of Blanshard, Manitoba. The program was originally conceived by the Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba’s largest farm organization, with the support of the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Manitoba Agriculture, Food & Rural Initiatives, the Regional Municipality of Blanshard, Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation, and the Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District. Farmers are compensated varying amounts for the different services their lands provide: $5 per acre for managed grazing areas, and $15 per acre for natural areas, riparian areas and wetlands taken out of agricultural production, and $25 per acre for certain ecologically sensitive lands. The program has expanded to other pilot sites, including Norfolk County in Ontario. This past spring, Prince Edward Island became the first province to adopt ALUS as a province-wide policy.

Currently, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is assessing 8 specific pilot projects (to which the Blanshard ALUS pilot is one) that incorporate the idea of EG&S into policy instruments. Some of these other pilots include evaluating the economic and environmental costs and benefits of wetland restoration and retention in South Tobacco Creek, Manitoba, identifying and assessing the provisioning of EG&S by the primary agriculture sector in Nova Scotia, and estimating the social and economic value of EG&S from agro-forestry practices in Canada. It is important to stress that valuing ecosystem goods and services is still a novel concept. In time, a better understanding of the links between ecosystems and the economy, and the development of policies that seek to secure EG&S, will emerge.

It is also worth examining a number of other Canadian initiatives, including AAFC’s additional pilot projects; Alberta’s work on carbon and EG&S; and work on environmental markets including cap and trade, mitigation banking, transferable rights, etc..

Between 1974 and 1976 the government of British Columbia established the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). This zone of approximately 4.7 hectares makes agriculture a priority use and controls non-agricultural uses.The concept of a ‘land trust’ or ‘conservation trust’ has been promoted as a way to safeguard agricultural land near cities in perpetuity. Land trusts are essentially organizations that protect ecologically or culturally significant areas that are not currently protected. Often this occurs when an organization purchases the land directly, but it can also occur through legally enforceable “easements” between landowners and a trust that specifies land-use on farm. The Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT), operated out of the University of Guelph, is one such example. Most land trusts in Canada, including the Nature Conservancy and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation, focus strictly on protecting natural areas. The Ontario Farmland Trust is the only organization in Ontario solely devoted to protecting farmland. According to their website, OFT has so far secured properties in Brant County, Goderich and Wellington.

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