New agriculture minister acknowledges lack of consultation on ALR changes, BC, Canada

Published on April 17, 2004 on http://www.bcndp.ca/newsroom/new-agriculture-minister-acknowledges-lack-consultation-alr-changes

KAMLOOPS – Norm Letnick, Christy Clark’s latest agriculture minister, is acknowledging that there has not been real consultation to allow for the Liberals’ Bill 24 to move forward, say the New Democrats.

“Mr. Letnick latest public comments reflect that the Liberals never received any mandate from farmers and British Columbians across this province to make such sweeping changes to B.C.’s revered Agricultural Land Reserve that undermine our food security and farming sector,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix. “Not only did the Liberals not campaign on changing the ALR, after entering office they never once consulted on this legislation.”

Letnick acknowledged Wednesday that the opposition to the legislation from within the agriculture sector is causing him to revisit the government’s lack of consultation on the legislation.

“One of the Liberals’ primary premises for Bill 24 – that a majority of farmland in the ALR outside of Vancouver Island, the Fraser Valley and Okanagan, is not productive farmland – has been thoroughly discredited by experts, who have informed the premier that the opposite is true,” said New Democrat small business critic Lana Popham.

“This not only reveals the Liberals’ lack of knowledge on the true overall value of the ALR, it reinforces that they never held any informed consultation on the ALR as part of the Core Review process that led this legislation. Real consultation would have resulted in better public policy that truly supports farmers, farming and our food security. Until such consultation takes place, Bill 24 needs to be shelved.”

A letter soil experts sent to the premier last week unequivocally stated that Bill 24 was putting at risk millions of hectares of high-class agriculture land located in the Interior, the Kootenays, and the north.

“These experts make clear that the government’s attempt to divide ALR into two zones – reserving Zone 1 for agriculture but not Zone 2 – is flawed, and based on erroneous assumptions. The truth is that the majority of B.C.’s best farmland is in Zone 2: 2 million hectares compared to 350,000 hectares. And in a province where only five per cent of the land base is suitable for agriculture, all these hectares need to be preserved and protected,” said Popham, who is also MLA for Saanich South and a former farmer.

Dix and Popham were in Kamloops Thursday meeting with agriculture groups as part of the Official Opposition’s ongoing effort to pressure the Liberals to shelve Bill 24, and to adopt legislative measures that actually promote farming, productivity in the ALR and B.C.’s food security. To achieve these ends, Dix has tabled the BC Local Food Act, which is being endorsed by agriculture groups including B.C. Local Food Systems and Farm to Cafeteria Canada.

The main elements of the legislation include implementing a comprehensive strategy on government purchasing locally grown food; reintroducing the successful Buy BC program; mandating a legislative committee on food and agriculture to prepare, in consort with the agriculture minister, a plan to increase local food production, marketing, and processing. The plan would set targets and implement policies to meet those targets which would be reported on annually in the legislature.

“Contrary to the claims made by Bill Bennett – the minister in charge of Core Review – farmers and British Columbians across this province are making it very clear that this is not the agriculture legislation our province needs. The ALR is supported by more than 80 per cent of people in this province, who recognize that if it is dismantled, their food security and local economy will suffer,” said Popham.

And more recently, WATCH: B.C. Farmers hope opposition ‘ploughs down’ Bill 24

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Sustainable Food Systems, with a focus on Agricultural Planning in the MRC of Haut-Richelieu, Quebec

Les syst_ذmes alimentaires durables- Ch_رrine Akkari (PDF)

Agriculture and Innovation in the Urban Fringe: The Case of Organic Farming in Quebec, Canada

This paper takes another perspective on the zoning laws in Canada, specifically in Quebec. The paper presents the urban fringe as an area where alternative forms of agriculture, i.e. organic farming, are favored through closer access to such resources as a large urban market and and specialized agricultural services. An analysis of organic farming in Quebec, Canada, shows that urban fringe areas account for the highest level of activity in organic farming compared to other regions, confirming of conditions encouraging innovation. Concentrations of organic farming are also present in urban fringe areas, suggestive of other factors, e.g. the role of local actors, which also influence the development of alternative and innovative forms of agriculture.

Here is the paper: Beauchesne-Bryant-TESG993-2

The McGill Food Systems Project

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You sit down to eat at a cafeteria on campus. Before the food even reaches your plate, it has a story. What if that story took place entirely on campus? The menu has been set by a group of Nutrition and Dietetics students, who rigorously researched a healthy, seasonal and delicious combination of foods for you to choose from. All of the fresh produce was grown at the Macdonald Campus Farm, or at an urban garden on the Downtown Campus – living examples of agricultural systems in harmony with their natural local surroundings which were studied by agricultural, environment and urban planning students alike. The stalks were used to provide energy to the greenhouse, and the preparation waste was composted on site for the next growing season. Every step of the process was intentional, efficient, and sustainable.

 Not only was the food grown and consumed at McGill, its cultivation contributed to the academic development of the students who helped produce it.

The McGill Food Systems Project is a collaborative initiative between Students, Professors, McGill Food and Dining Services, and the McGill Office of Sustainability.

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Using student research, community engagement, and stakeholder collaboration, we work to maximize the environmental, social, and economic sustainability of the food systems of McGill’s downtown campus. The goal of the project is to get members of the campus, regional community, and food supply chain working together create a food system they can be proud to eat from.

For more: http://www.mcgill.ca/mfsp/

Local Food Systems and Public Policy: The Case of Zoning Laws in Quebec

Food is one of our basic needs. It is an integral part of culture and has been a driving force in the creation of human settlements. Originally, food was closely linked with urban form since most of it came from local or regional sources. However, over the past few decades, our food system has become increasingly globalized (MacLeod and Scott, 2007). With the rise of agribusiness, the ability to transport food cheaply over long distances and the development of food preservation based on technology have enabled the distance between farm and market to increase dramatically. Recently, such practices have been questioned for the damage they cause to the natural environment, high energy consumption, and their contribution to climate change. In addition, the quality of the food available to residents is subject to increasing concern. In fact, the trend toward increasing distances between producers and consumers has prompted many to question the environmental and social sustainability of our food choices (MacLeod and Scott, 2007). The question of how to feed the urban population, particularly during crisis, is becoming urgent every day. Concerns about health and the loss of tradition and culture that began to take hold in post-modern society, the spread of the ‘food desert’, especially in poor urban areas (Cummins and Macintyre, 2002: 436), where there is no easy access to affordable food, food banks and soup kitchens, demonstrated that the urgency of access to food and food security for everyone must be confronted. To note here, the modern movement for LFS (local food systems) as an alternative to the conventional agricultural system is not new. It started in Japan in the 1970s with the teikei, which means ‘putting the producer’s face on the product’ (Mundler 2007: 2). The teikei were organized around consumer cooperatives, whose members would link up with producers and even helped with the work on the farm (Pretty 1998: 164-165). A similar model was also adopted in Québec by Équiterre in 1995 where consumers, organized into groups, pay up front at the beginning of the season and receive deliveries of food baskets each week, thereby sharing the risk inherent in agricultural production (Blouin et al., 2009).

Agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 % of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change (Nierenberg and Reynolds, 2012). The sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity is likely to be particularly beneficial for small-scale farmers, who need to optimize the limited resources that are available to them and for whom the access to external inputs is lacking due to financial or infrastructural constraints (FAO, 2011). Benefits on a large-scale can also be achieved by focusing on improvements relevant to large commercial farmers and conservation agriculture has already been effective in this respect. Inevitably, there is considerable skepticism over the practicality of the widespread adoption of agricultural production practices that embody a greater use of biodiversity for food and agriculture and a greater emphasis on ecosystem functions (FAO, 2011). Two major geopolitical realities have a constraining effect on peoples’ thinking. Firstly, modern, intensive farming in developed countries receives very large levels of financial support and all sectors of the agricultural and food industries are linked in to this highly subsidized system to a greater or lesser extent. Secondly, there is a continuing commitment to ensuring that food prices remain low and that basic foodstuffs are affordable by all sectors of society including the poorest. These both tend to lead to a disinterest in the nature of agricultural production systems and present a very real barrier to the development of new approaches to production (FAO, 2011). However, it is increasingly recognized that an appropriate policy framework can largely overcome these constraints and, indeed, must be developed (FA0, 2011).

In the last few years, more localized food supply chains have been proposed as a vehicle for sustainable development (Lyson 2004; Halweil & Worldwatch Institute 2002; Rosset & Land Research Action Network. 2006; Desmarais 2007; Via Campesina n.d.). We can note here that the term ‘local’ is still contested and its definition varies from one local market development organization to the next. Literally, the term ‘local’ indicates a relation to a particular place, a geographic entity. However, as our literature review has uncovered, most organizations have a more elaborate definition of what is local, often incorporating specific goals and objectives that an LFS ought to deliver into the definition itself. There are three aspects of LFS, which are proximity (geographic distance, temporal distance, political and administrative boundaries, bio-regions, and social distance), objectives of local food systems (economic, environmental and social objectives), and distribution mechanisms in local food systems (farm shops, farmer’s markets, box schemes, community-supported agriculture, institutional procurement policy, and urban agriculture).

Besides the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), there is a growing interest by the public sector for local food, which is mainly linked to the idea of food sovereignty – a global movement that aims to transform food systems into engines of sustainable development and social justice (Blouin et al., 2009). To note here that La Via Campesina was the first organization to develop the concept of food sovereignty in 1993 in Belgium as a more radical alternative to the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (Pimbert 2008: 41). Thus, the pursuit of food sovereignty implies that work should be done in international treaty negotiations and human rights conventions in order to allow state sovereignty over food policy—that is, to prevent interference from foreign powers in the policy-making process, lift restrictions placed by international trade agreements, and eliminate dumping practices (Blouin et al., 2009). In 2007 in Montreal, a definition of food sovereignty was developed by a Québec-based coalition for food sovereignty that included producer organizations, civil society groups, food distributors, and development organizations. The definition states that “food sovereignty means the right of people to develop their own food and agricultural policy; to protect and regulate national food production and trade in order to attain sustainable development goals, to determine their degree of food autonomy, and to eliminate dumping on their markets. Food sovereignty does not contradict trade in the sense that it is subordinated to the right of people to local food production, healthy and ecological, realized in equitable conditions that respect the right of every partner to decent working conditions and incomes” (Blouin et al., 2009).

Over the last 60 years, Canada‘s overall food system has become more geared to large-scale systems of production, distribution and retail. In Quebec, the agricultural, food processing, and retail sectors account for 6.8% of GDP and 12.5% of all jobs. The province produces fresh and processed food worth $19.2 billion, while only consuming $15.4 billion (a 25% surplus), and retailers imported $6.9 billion worth of fresh and processed foods last year. About 44% of Quebec’s raw and processed food production finds its way into Quebeckers’ plates, the rest being exported to other Canadian provinces (30%) and oversees (245) (MAPAQ, 2009). We can note here that since 1941, the evolution’s of Quebec’s agricultural landscape is characterized by the decrease in the number of farms and a market concentration dominated by few producers. And this is very similar to what we see in other Canadian provinces and other industrialized countries (Lemay J., 2009).

As it was already mentioned in this report, local food systems are proliferating in Quebec (Lemay J., 2009). There is now a growing interest in the production, processing, and buying of local food. New “local food systems” are being set up to organize the various components that will meet the needs of all the stakeholders in the community or region (Irshad, 2009). The initiatives that are helping in this process in Quebec are: organic and other specialized agriculture ((316 certified organic livestock production units, 341 organic maple syrup producers, and 585 certified farms (CARTV, 2009)), famer’s markets (network of 82 open markets, seasonal or permanent, daily or occasional), community- supported agriculture (CSA) (Équiterre runs a networkwith over 100 participants farms. Others: Union paysanne, La Mauve (Coop CSA)), and solidarity markets (A new phenomenon, solidarity markets are a more flexible box scheme. Consumers can an order through a web portal) (Lemay J., 2009). Despite the growth of these initiatives, there remain several obstacles inhibiting their expansion. The three main obstacles are: lack of financing (for example, banks are not willing to issue micro-loans at competitive rates), economic power (in fact, the food retail sector is marked by high rates of market concentration; supermarkets have been able to achieve economies of scale because they do not have to pay for the social and environmental costs of their business practices), and knowledge (the lack of demand for local food attributed to a lack of information about where to procure it, and a lack of information about prices).

Now, identifying every obstacle, policy and existing initiative related to the nodes in the value chain in the literature of Blouin et al., (2009), we notice there is a dilemma between land protection and land access. This is mostly attributed to the case of zoning policy. In 1978 and in the context of rapid economic development, speculation on land, fragmentation of the land and non-agricultural use, the government of Quebec passed agricultural land protection legislation, the second in Canada (Loi sur la protection des terres agricoles (LPTAA)). This law also reflected a desire to plan and regulate in this area and an overseeing agency was also created – the Commission de protection du territiore agricole du Quebec (CPTAQ). Except for a similar law in British Columbia, this law is the only one of its kind in Canada, and it effectively organized the use of agricultural land over the years. However, today with greater concentration of ownership and fewer people in the business of food production, the zoning law is causing problems since it acts as barrier for entry for smaller and more value-added producers who need smaller plots (Lemay J., 2009). In fact, the zoning law is one of the laws that facilitates industrial long-distance agriculture at the expense of small-scale sustainable agriculture and short supply chains (e.g. zoning laws that favor big farms, subsidy systems that favor big retailers, funding schemes targeted at large producers, …) (Blouin et al., 2009). At the same time, we can see this on an international level – the pressure for city expansion, speculation and non-agricultural use is still strong. Moreover, beyond the provincial level, municipalities have authority over certain zoning laws and by-laws that can facilitate or inhibit the development of LFS, particularly regulations concerning the use of agricultural zones for commercial purposes (Blouin et al., 2009). Though aimed at protecting agricultural zones from industrial development and other forms of encroachment, such by-laws effectively prevent on-farm direct sales or the use of farmland for farmers’ markets or farm shops (Wormsbecker 2007) and organizers of such initiatives typically have to negotiate with municipal authorities for special permits or designated spaces (Connell et al. 2007). However, agricultural zoning per se (designations for tax purposes) falls within provincial government jurisdiction or a land management agency, such as the Agricultural Land Reserve in British Columbia or the Commission pour la protection des terres agricoles du Québec (Blouin et al., 2009).

To conclude, to achieve this vision of food sovereignty, LFS have to go beyond the distance travelled by food products before they reach the final consumers (food miles) and integrate social, economic and environmental benefits. Also, Farmers’ markets, CSA and other initiatives are becoming increasingly present in industrial countries in recent years, but they still only represent a very small part of the food market (Blouin et al., 2009). For example, in Quebec, Équiterre’s CSA went from one to 102 farms between 1995 and 2006. It contributes to 73% of the average turnover of the farms, and yields an average annual profit of $3,582 annually when conventional agricultural produces an average annual loss of $6,255 (Chinnakonda & Telford, 2007: 38-39). In addition, regarding the zoning law, there are some good possibilities. In fact, within the existing law, new initiatives are emerging elsewhere and new possibilities can be developed in other provinces. These include cooperative land trusts and the collective buying of land and green belts (Lemay J., 2009). However, other aspects require reform. CPTAQ should be more flexible to LFS needs. For example, in one case, the CPTAQ has agreed to allow municipal authorities in Ste-Camille to take management over a large farm that was for sale in order to help new young families establish small farms. In order to do this, the CPTAQ de-zoned the land, thus technically empowering municipal authorities to develop it however they chose;  however, there was an understanding that the municipality would keep the land for agricultural use. If this case is inspiring, there should be a formal way to make such arrangements without necessarily de-zoning the land and placing it at risk. The main and remaining question is how to allow the creation of small farms without endangering land protection for the future of agriculture in Quebec, especially in the context of rising non-agricultural activities in farming areas (e.g. shale gas exploitation) (Lemay J., 2009). Even though there is no national policy to promote LFS, provincial governments have been active with various programs in this area. There is much variations from one provinces to another, but the existing programs tend to cluster on the demand side, focusing on consumer education and marketing projects, even running some themselves (the origin labeling and promotion programs). To a lesser extent, there are some programs to support organic farming (transition programs) but very few focusing on processing and distribution. Moreover, it is important to provide knowledge for policy action on food sovereignty given the gap which exists in understanding the impact of existing public policy initiatives (Blouin et al., 2009).

References:

Cummins, S., and Macintyre, S. (2002). “‘Food Deserts’ – Evidence and Assumption in Health Policy Making.” British Medical Journal Vol. 325, No. 7361: 436-438.

Blouin et al. (September, 2009). LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS AND PUBLIC POLICY: A REVIEW OF THE

LITERATURE. Équiterre &The Centre for Trade Policy and Law, Carleton University.

Chinnakonda, D. & and L. Telford. 2007. Les économies alimentaires locales et régionales au Canada: rapport sur la situation. Ottawa: Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada.

Lyson, T.A. 2004. Civic Agriculture. UPNE. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2009august/a1.phpp://www.joe.org/joe/2009august/a1.php

Halweil, B. & Worldwatch Institute. 2002. Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market. Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute.

Desmarais, A. 2007. La Vía Campesina: Globalization and the Power of Peasants. Halifax, London, and Ann Arbor, Michigan: Fernwood Pub. Pluto Press.

Rosset, P. & Land Research Action Network. 2006. Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform. Oakland, California & New York: Food First Books.

Wormsbecker, C.L. 2007. Moving Towards the Local: The Barriers and Opportunities for Localizing Food Systems in Canada. Master of Environmental Studies in Environment and Resource Studies. University of Waterloo.

Vía Campesina. La Vía Campesina: International Peasant Movement—Small Scale Sustainable Farmers are Cooling Down the Earth. Available at: http://viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=457&Itemid=37 [Accessed June 13, 2009].

Pimbert, M. 2008. Towards Food Sovereignty: Reclaiming Autonomous Food Systems. London: International Institute for Environment and Development.

Connell, D.J., R. Borsato. & L. Gareau. 2007. Farmers, Farmers Markets, and Land Use Planning: Case Studies in Prince George and Quesnel. University of Northern British Columbia.

MacLeod, M., and Scott, J. (May, 2007). Local Food Procurement Policies:

A Literature Review. Ecology Action Centre For the Nova Scotia Department of Energy. Retrieved from http://www.ecologyaction.ca/files/images/file/Food/LocalFoodProcurementPolicies.pdf

Lemay J-F. (2009). Local Food Systems and Public Policy: The Case of Zoning Laws in Quebec. Retrieved from http://canada-europe-dialogue.ca/events/2011-03-03-05-LocalFoodSystems/summaries/2011-03-04-summary-jean-frederic-lemay.pdf

CARTV, (2009). Statistiques pour l’appelation biologique. Retrieved from http://cartv.gouv.qc.ca-statistiques-pour-lappelation-biologique

MAPAQ. (2009). Statistiques economiques de l’industrie bioalimentaire. Retrieved from http://mapaq.gouv.qc.ca/fr/md/statistiques/Pages/statistiques.aspx

Irshard, H. (2009). Local Food – A Rural Opportunity. Government of Alberta. Agriculture and Rural Development. Retrieved from http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$Department/deptdocs.nsf/all/csi13484/$FILE/Local-Food-A-Rural-Opp.pdf

Nierenberg, D., and Reynolds, L. (December 4, 2012). Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production. WorldWatch Institute. Retrieved from http://www.worldwatch.org/supporting-climate-friendly-food-production

Mundler, P. 2007. Les Associations pour le maintien de l’agriculture paysanne (AMAP) en Rhône-

Alpes, entre marché et solidarité. Ruralia 2007-20. Available at: http://ruralia.revues.org/document1702.html [Accessed July 15, 2009].

Pretty, J. 1998. The Living Land: Agriculture, Food, and Community Regeneration in Rural Europe. London: Earthscan.

FAO. (2011). Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture: Contributing to food security and sustainability in a changing world. Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research (PAR). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/biodiversity_paia/PAR-FAO-book_lr.pdf


Vulnerability of Farms and Adaptation to Climate Change in Quebec: Risk Management and Adaptation to Climate Variability

During the course of their lifespan, humans were used to harvest what they cultivate by their own hands. However, this reality has changed with the development of technology especially with the beginning of the industrial revolution that began in the 18th century. The industrial revolution has encouraged the over-use of fossil fuels, which is a high-carbon economy, such as coal and natural gas. People began to dominate nature. They cut trees, they destroyed forests, and they overexploited almost any useful resource to an extent that their actions have exceeded the world’s carrying capacity. In 2007, the area that is available to produce renewable resources and absorb CO2, which is called “Footprint”, has exceeded the earth’s biocapacity by 50% (Alcamo et.al, 2010). This is true because the methods that people have adopted are unsustainable. In fact and according to the American Institute of Physics, it is predicted that by 2050, the demand of the world for energy will double due to population growth and to the industrialization of developing countries (Crabtree, 2004). During the 20th century, global temperatures rose by approximately 0.60 C and climate models estimate that this figure is set to rise to 20 C by 2100 (Houghton et al., 1996). According to a report published on 18 November by the World Bank, the average temperature of the planet may rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century (Torre, 2012). This global warming has been attributed in part to human activity, and in particular to the burning of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. CO2, methane (CH4), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), tropospheric (low-level) ozone (O3), and water vapour (H2O), are among the important gases that are able, in the atmosphere, to absorb heat radiated by the earth, whilst allowing the sun’s energy to pass through unobstructed (Haslett, 2008). As a result, the gases allow the atmosphere to act like a greenhouse, and are responsible for producing the earth’s average temperature of 150 C (Haslett, 2008). This has given rise to the phenomenon that is referred to as the Greenhouse Effect, and without this natural phenomenon, the earth’s average temperature would be in the region of -170 C (Haslett, 2008). Concern is focused on the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere from human activity, which is causing an increase in the Greenhouse Effect, resulting in global warming. It must be noted that global warming may not be only due to anthropogenic effects and that natural phenomena may be contributing, such as variations in solar radiation output (Haslett, 2008).

There has now been well over a decade of research into the adaptation of human activities to climate change and variability in several countries, including Canada (e.g. Brklacich et al., 1997; Bryant et al., 1997; Bryant et al., 2000). In the early 1990s, apart from a certain level of skepticism, much of the work on the impacts of climate change on agriculture centred on climate change modelling. At that point in time – the early 1990s – farmers’ perceptions certainly revealed the potential of farmer adaptation to climate change and variability (Bryant et al., 2007; Bryant et al., 2005). Comparison of future yields under different climate scenarios with current yields was thus explored, giving ‘impacts’ in terms of changes in yields (Bryant et al., 2000). The yields for different crop types could then be compared and implications for agricultural land use change were derived directly from these model outputs, and this was undertaken in Quebec as elsewhere in North America (Singh and Stewart, 1991; Rosenberg et al., 1992; Mearns et al., 1992; Semenov et al., 1995). However, climate change and variability were certainly not a major preoccupation for farmers (Bryant et al., 2007; Bryant et al., 2005). At the same time, research during the 1990s stressed the need to recognize the inherent spatial variability of conditions under which agriculture has developed, and therefore to validate adaptation indicators more extensively and analyze regional differentiation of agro-climatic conditions in relation to vulnerability and adaptive capacity. In addition, the need to incorporate “the human factor” in climate change adaptation research resulted in a comparable change in orientation that included human agency with the biophysical impact-based approaches (Singh et al., 1996, 1998; André et al., 1996). From there, the issue of the adaptation of agriculture to climate change and variability (Bryant et al., 1997) was highlighted, followed by effort directed at understanding the capacity for adaptation of different farmers and farming systems (e.g. Bryant and André, 2003). As a result, questions have thus increasingly been posed concerning how human agency is or can adjust to these changing conditions. Research into the adaptation question for agricultural activities has been underway in Canada now by several small research teams for the last 16 years (Brklacich et al., 1997; Bryant et al., 2000).

The following paper will briefly discuss the research program dealing with adaptation of agriculture to climate change and variability at the universities of Montreal and McGill since the fall, 2004. The program is an extension of a longer research thrust into farm adaptation (and the adaptation of other human activities) that has been carried out at the Université de Montréal since the early 1990s. The partners of this particular research program are Ouranos, a climate change consortium in Montreal, the Agricultural Financing Agency for Quebec, the Ministry of Agriculture (Quebec), the Farmers Union of Quebec, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The Ministry of Natural Resources Canada and Ouranos financed this program.

The project focuses on risk management strategies by Quebec farmers, combining historical analyses of significant climatic events, selected crop production enterprises and insurance claims (yield effects) with analyses of farm-level strategies in terms of farm productivity and profitability (e.g. crop combinations and diversification strategies, on-farm resources ((soils, water) management strategies, sales strategies)) following these events. Also, the project builds on the understanding from the past experiences of farmers in Quebec in adapting to and coping with extreme events of adapting versus not adapting to changing climatic conditions. The research focused on three agricultural regions in Quebec, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean (SLSJ) region, Centre-du-Québec and the South-West Quebec (Montreal).                                                                                                             The methodology is mainly based on a general conceptual framework which takes into consideration the bio-physical environment (e.g. climate and soil conditions) and the adaptation to climate change and variability as part of farmers’ risk management strategies. One should note here that the farmers’ risk management strategies are made ‘in context’, for example, in the context of other actors’ decisions which modify farmers’ perceptions either by providing farmers with additional information (e.g. the ‘good practices’ guides of La Financière, information provided by the MAPAQ and the UPA) or which determine certain parameters in the farmers’ decision-making environment (e.g. definition of crop insurance program regions, participation costs in insurance programs and other decisions that affect farmers’ assessments of costs and benefits). In addition, assessing how farmers perceive and address one particular source of stress, i.e. climate change and variability, must be seen in the context of the broader economic and political context (e.g. interest rates, exchange rates that affect costs of exports and imports and environmental regulation) as well as more regionally-based factors and processes, such as urban sprawl around major urban areas. As a first step, the Advisory or Steering Committee from the partners and stakeholders (Ouranos, MAPAQ, La Financière, UPA, Agriculture Canada) was set up. Second, a temporal analysis of climatic and crop loss information (using yields variability by production type and region relating to drought conditions, and other extreme climatic events (from La Financière)), as well as the regular reports of the Financière on crop growing conditions, was undertaken for the whole of Quebec. Third, the three target regions were identified. For the specific regions retained, an intra-regional analysis of climate-related claims relating to drought conditions (and other extreme climatic events)/losses/yields, was made in order to identify any concentrations (‘hot spots’). Organizing and facilitating focus groups with professionals in the regions retained, as well as farmers in the target regions, were done. Then, an analysis of farm models with and without adaptation was made. After that, the vulnerability at farm, sector and region levels, was assessed.

Since the three regions are very different from each others in many aspects (i.e. 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 each region. Also, regarding the management of risk, farms should not necessarily be the same in each region.  The results of the research were divided into three main parts, which are: the level of preoccupation regarding excess rain, drought and freezing conditions, practices that had been modified or that were suggested following past events (excess precipitation, drought conditions and frost), and the most appropriate practices to modify in the future. With respect to the Level of preoccupation regarding excess rain, drought and freezing conditions, excess rainfall represented the primary preoccupation for farmers from the SW Quebec (Montreal) region, while for the Lac-St-Jean farmers it was lack of snow, and for Centre-du-Quebec farmers, the occurrence of low temperatures during the summer. For the professionals from the Centre-du-Québec, the preoccupations were mainly those relating to excess precipitation in the spring, summer drought and insects. For those from the SW Quebec (Montreal) region, the preoccupations were mainly centred on excess rainfall (fall and spring), frosts, insects, diseases, excess heat and drought. In the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, it was mainly lack of snow, as well as frosts, insects, diseases, excess heat and drought that were the main preoccupations. The perceptions of farmers and professionals from the same region were compared. For example, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean the professional group was not as preoccupied with strong winds, excess heat and temperatures as were the farmers. The presence of blueberry producers in the focus group certainly explains some of this difference.

Furthermore, talking about the level of preoccupation regarding excess rain, drought and freezing conditions, some slight differences were observed between farmers and professionals in their perception of climatic events. Farmers from the Centre-du-Québec were relatively less inclined to advocate a change in crops (solutions that were proposed by the professionals) and, instead, opted more to change the type of seed used (i.e. the cultivars). On the other hand, the solutions and perceptions of farmers and professionals converged in terms of the importance given to changing the timing of farmers’ work operations, the method of working the land, drainage and of modifying techniques of soil drainage. Generally, farmers had modified different practices in their fields following problems associated with drought (timing, seeding density and choice of seed type). The professionals from the three regions were more inclined to suggest changes in the methods of working the soil. Irrigation was suggested by a minority of participants. And in relation to past problems with frost, most of the professionals suggested modifying the timing of different practices as well as changing crop type in the three regions. Most of the farmers also noted a change in the timing of different work operations as well as the technique of working the soil following freezing conditions. In the Centre-du-Québec and the Lac-Saint-Jean region, crop protection as well as the modification of wind breaks had also been undertaken. In the Lac-Saint-Jean region, the participants noted they had changed seeds and crops in relatively similar proportions (roughly 50 %).           Furthermore, concerning the most appropriate practices to modify in the future, participants were asked whether climate change was important in their region and to assign a value to the different strategies or practices to follow in the future. Generally, the highest values were obtained from the farmers in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. These emphasized the importance of diversification, of abandoning certain types of crops considered to be vulnerable, and as well of changing crops in order to profit from any rise in temperatures. Farmers in the Lac-Saint-Jean and SW Quebec (Montreal) regions thought it was more important to obtain government assistance but also that it was important to modify agricultural tools and seeds.  Diversification of activities was considered in all three regions. Among agricultural professionals, diversification of activities was of interest in all three regions, as well as modifying ways of working the soil and also soil drainage. Those from the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region assigned much more importance to abandoning vulnerable crops and to changing crops in order to benefit from climate warming and government aid. Professionals from the SW Quebec (Montreal) region appear to want to have farming profit from methanol and ethanol production. Those from the Centre-du-Québec expressed the desire to adjust irrigation techniques to the imperatives of climate change as much as drainage techniques.

To conclude, agriculture is a sector that is naturally sensitive to climate and among the most likely to be affected by changing climatic conditions in the future. However, agriculture under certain conditions has the capacity to deal with and adapt to various challenges. As a result, modern farm managers are now trying to incorporate climatic uncertainty in their decision-making procedures with the objective of minimizing the adverse effects of changing climatic conditions or taking advantage of them on their farm by adopting wise practices and strategies.

Some suggestions of farmers and professionals were made to reduce the risks associated with climate change and variability. In the SLSJ region, crop diversification; development of windbreaks (e.g. snow cover); experiment with new practices; better water management; better advice to the producers; and change crop insurance; were recommended. To the South-West Montreal, the insurance should give credit for various techniques. The yield insurance punished only good farmers and supports poor ones who are not able or do not work to improve their production. In the centre of Quebec, there is a need for retention ponds and buffer zones to the field line instead of draining the ditch water directly to the river. It is evident that there are significant spatial variations both at the interregional and intra regional patterns due to climatic extremes. The variation spatially appears to be as significant as the substantial variation in temporal patterns. It is important to note that vulnerability also encompasses the broader system characteristics, at the community or territorial level, at the region, provincial, federal and broader international levels and recognizing such effects related to multiple sources of stress affecting the farm decision taker. The recognition of the reality of multiple sources of stress affecting the farmers’ decision-making environment also provides us with a clue regarding why farmers perceive climate change and variability with different degrees of ‘urgency’. As a result, agricultural risks are linked to one another. Adopting a holistic approach to risk management is important (Rispoli, 2011). Furthermore, there are significant differences between farmers in their level of awareness and adaptive capacity to deal with climate change and variability. Moreover, a number of results suggest important pointers for public policy and intervention in the field of agricultural adaptation to climate change and variability. Here, the key thread is that of variability and how this presents both a challenge and a set of opportunities for public intervention. While broad policies can be constructed to facilitate adaptation, the significant challenge is that it is at the level of the farmers in their communities that final decisions have to be taken. Public policy and intervention must be able to address the significant patterns of variability that were revealed by the research. Not only do climate conditions vary significantly between regions, they also vary significantly within broad regions (more so in some regions than in others). It is evident from the focus group meetings, that there is also significant variation between farmers in their awareness and ability to adapt, and to recognize the benefits of adapting through integrating appropriate strategies into their farm operations. Thus, on the one hand there are significant challenges in the public sector, perhaps in conjunction with other institutions and organizations such as the UPA and the Clubs Conseils, to undertake significant roles in counselling as advisors to farmers, as information providers and as educators. In addition, it is clear that some farming communities are more aware than others, and therefore perhaps already better able to adapt to the changing environment. Part of this comes from the network of social relationships that is stronger in some regions than in others. Since some of the adaptation strategies that might be considered involve groups of farmers working together (e.g. some drainage schemes), then these advising, information and education roles may also need to be oriented towards building the social capital that underlies such collective adaptation projects. One of the challenges in this is that adaptation may be partly a cultural phenomenon. Other research by the Université de Montréal research team had earlier emphasized that adaptive capacity was strongly related to farmers’ ability to be self-critical and question their current ways of managing and planning their farm operations. 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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