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Growing Stronger: a letter from the co-chairs

Wheat field with text reading "Growing Stronger; Aiming for Resilience in our Canadian Food System"

The task before us.

From the earliest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been questions and concerns around food system’s resilience and its impacts on everyone from farmers to consumers. From the panic buying that emptied grocery store shelves in the first weeks of the lockdown to the paradox of both rising food bank use and food being dumped; from challenges in securing temporary foreign workers to keeping meat packing plants operational, COVID-19’s effect on the food system has been dramatic.

In the post-COVID-19 world, seeking answers to the key question of “how to build a resilient Canadian agri-food system?” will become more relevant and more urgent than ever, as this crisis may very well be the tip of the iceberg, bringing to light vulnerabilities and structural issues in the Canadian agri-food system.

Lessons from disruption

There are lessons to be learned from this experience. What have we done well? What have we done badly? And, critically, what do we need to do to ensure that our food system is robust against future threats? In short, what can we do to ensure that the agri-food system provides nutrition for all, enhances environmental and social sustainability, and serves as an engine for economic recovery?

These are big topics and require forthright dialogue from different perspectives. We need to hear how farmers have adapted to changing markets. We need to understand how supply chains kept functioning as demand shifted and disruptions in trade challenged the entire food system. We must learn how vulnerable people in remote communities, along with those who live in urban centres, made out as prices rose and incomes fell.

A project for insight

The Canadian Agri-food Policy Institute (CAPI) and Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph (AFI) are excited to be working together on a national lessons-learned exercise. Drawing on our respective networks amongst civil society, industry, the academia, issue experts, and government we are motivated by a spirit of collaboration, a desire to listen to all perspectives, and a commitment to facilitate a nationwide dialogue.

The project will unfold in a number of stages:

We are starting by inviting input from all stakeholders. If you have a perspective and want to provide input please access our web portal.
AFI and CAPI will be hosting virtual townhalls, webinars, dialogues and debates over the summer and into the fall. As we learn and listen, we will identify key themes pertaining to food security and access, the economic viability of the farm sector, sustainable food production, and Canada’s place on the global stage. As these themes emerge, AFI and CAPI will take the lead, with input from an engaged advisory group, on drilling into those themes in detail, reaching out to stakeholders, and ultimately developing policy options and strategies.
CAPI and AFI will share all findings, invite controversial views, and debate pathways forward through our websites and other channels.
Draft conclusions and recommendations will be debated at the 2020 Arrell Food Summit before being presented in their final form in 2021 as part of the CAPI’s Big Solutions Forum.
We know we are all still adjusting to a new reality that will be with us for some time. But itis important we capture the lessons of this past spring while they are still fresh.

Time is of the essence.

Whether you are a producer, processor or retailer, a member of an indigenous community or a migrant farm worker, a researcher, an urban consumer with job security or someone who depends on a foodbank, we’d like to hear about your experience and your views. If you would like to participate in this process, please contact us.

Yours truly,

Deb Stark (Board of Governors, University of Guelph and Board of Directors, CAPI)

Don Buckingham (CEO and President, CAPI)

Evan Fraser (Director, AFI)

logos of AFI and CAPI