Evaluation of Agricultural Adaptation Processes and Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change and Variability: The Co-construction of New Adaptation Planning Tools with Stakeholders and Farming Communities in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and Montérégie Regions of Québec
Agriculture is a very important element for a healthy society. In fact, anything that negatively affects agricultural production and its ramifications on the various aspects of our society and its environment is extremely worrying. This aspect has taken the attention of the world and particularly in developing countries. For a developed country like Canada, the concern in agriculture comes from the high energy consumption and its contribution to climate change. With the rise of agribusiness, the ability to transport food cheaply over long distances and the development of food preservation technology have enabled the distance between farm and market to increase dramatically. According to Agriculture Canada, the agri-business sector is one of Canada’s top five industries, constituting 8.5 % approximately of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (USDA, 2004). As a sector, agriculture has been obliged to respond to many changes, forces and processes over the course of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21stcentury. Market changes, technological change, changes in political support and programs and international competition, are all some of the examples of the several changes that happened and are still happening nowadays. And now, climate change- the main issue- with its increasing climate variability. Agriculture has to respond to these problems either by the farmers and their families directly, or through forms of support and aid provided by central states and their partners. The best way is to begin with farmers and their families since they are the cornerstone of agriculture. Then, given the facts of the limited adaptive capacity of farmers to many barriers (e.g. climate change), states (these states must have the adaptive capacity to integrate these new roles into their interventions. Not an easy challenge!) must also assist farmers to respond to such important issues, especially in enhancing the adaptive capacity of farmers to respond to climate change and variability. And we must not forget here that the participation of the state requires the mandatory presence of public policy. In fact, public policy always involves participation by the state sphere and public authorities (Vaillancourt, 2008).
Also note that, concerning the state, the players associated with it may belong to a variety of political scenes (local, regional, national, continental or global) (Vaillancourt, 2008) as well as non political domains. However, some progressive circles tried to adjust their focus so as to tighten the links between that policy and the needs of the communities concerned due to the hindsight gained following the welfare state and employment crisis of the 1980s (Jetté et al, 2000; Vaillancourt, Aubry and Jetté, 2003; Vaillancourt et al, 2004). As a result of the participation of different stakeholders in the making of public policy, the term ‘co-construction’ evolved. Co-construction means the participation by stakeholders from civil society and the market in the design of public policy (Vaillancourt, 2008). The term stands upstream from the adoption of public policy. In other words, it means the creation of public policy. To understand the co-construction process, we should break down the various stages involved in the genesis of public policy, which are: “identification of the main goals for attaining the general interest; choice of regulation standards to foster quality; determination of funding means (state, private, mixed, etc.); definition of responsibility-sharing with respect to management; arrangement of responsibility-sharing with respect to the delivery of services belonging to public policy; and establishment of the policy for evaluating public policy” (Vaillancourt, 2008).
This final synthesis report, that I am analyzing, is about the co-construction of planning tools with stakeholders and farming communities to help farmers adapt and increase their capacity to adapt to climate change and variability. One should keep in mind that adaptation is a complex process. By definition, adaptation is “the process or outcome that leads to a reduction in harm or risk of harm associated with climate change and variability” (UKCIP, 2003). The perspective taken by the project is that the farming community is not only responsible to assure the adaptation of agriculture. It is more appropriate, in this case, to speak of the co-construction of tools to help in farmers’ adaptation, as a result of the consequences of changing agriculture for a society.
The research focused on two agricultural regions in Quebec, the Montérégie and the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean (SLSJ) regions. Also, the project developed an extensive analysis of climate change and its impacts on agricultural yields, undertook interviews with farmers and professionals associated directly or indirectly with the agricultural sector to help determine the key determinants of adaptive capacity, and developed farm models for cash crop farms in the two regions in order to explore the merits of certain adaptive strategies. Throughout the project, a co-construction approach was used in the research process, and the project also informed the recommendations regarding future avenues for developing appropriate forms of public and collective intervention to enhance farmers’ adaptive capacity to respond to climate change.
Since the Montérégie region is very different than the SLSJ region in many respects (e.g. topography, municipal conditions, agricultural regions- in terms of climate conditions, soil conditions, crop composition and farm structure), the results of the project should be expected to be different in every region. The results showed that the impacts of climate change vary significantly between each region. Hence, differences between regions and areas of the Montérégie and SLSJ were expected in the impacts on agricultural yields related to the different climate scenarios used. Also, given the different conditions of the municipal conditions of each region, the adaptation strategies, specifically like the co-construction tools, adopted in each region were expected to be different. In addition, factors that are important in the farmers’ decision-making process were also different. A much greater importance was assigned to whether or not there is a clear successor to the farm in the SLSJ region. On the other hand, a much greater importance was attributed to changing market conditions in the Montérégie region. And as a very important note, all of the results stressed the huge significance of developing programs and policies that are responsive to the very different conditions (i.e. climate and soil conditions, and the economic and social structure of agriculture) in the regions of the Montérégie and SLSJ. Also, it was obvious that farmers expected to be aided in several ways in developing their adaptive capacity and selecting their adaptation strategies, mainly and preferably by actors who had a relatively permanent presence in their territories or regions.
In the recommendation part, the project concluded that a form of territorialisation of public and collective intervention, and policies, is necessary. This essentially requires forming partnerships between the federal and especially provincial level, on the one hand, and regional and local actors on the other hand. However, one should note here that it is difficult to obtain social quality and public policy by relying only on state intervention, (Vaillancourt, 2008). And that is where the distinction between co-construction and co-production of policy begins to be helpful. Besides, at the local level, it is critical to provide training for actors in the use of various tools for helping farmers and groups of farmers, and as well in the whole field of climate change. For instance, developing a credible and respected local presence, depending on each region, is in effect equivalent to developing a form of extension network.
To conclude, it is important to encourage exchanges on a more systematic and regular basis between farmers, and between farmers and professionals associated with agriculture in each region. Since public policy is a form of intervention and since climate change is not the only stress that impacts agriculture, public policy should be based firmly on a holistic approach in which policies and programs at all scales including the regional level, that influence agriculture, the environment and agricultural and rural communities, must be integrated and monitored to ensure a minimum of conflict between the policies so that they do not themselves obstruct the process of adaptation. It is important not to forget that public policy is a complex process. “Intervention by the public authorities may take a large variety of forms, including legislation, regulations, policy statements, white papers, budget announcements and fiscal measures” (Vaillancourt, 2008). To add to and in order to enable the potential of policies and programs to be used effectively to enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers, the issue of adaptation to climate change needs to be addressed more explicitly in the implementation of these policies and programs. Of course, this is more easily said than done.
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