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Research Update: Future Food Systems

A dairy cow approaches a robotic milker

Investigating the socio-economic impacts and sustainability of future food product systems is the overarching theme of the three SSHRC grants awarded to Arrell Food Institute researchers this year.

Looking into the future of agricultural production, the SSHRC Insight grant awarded to Drs. Evan Fraser, Phil Loring and Simon Somogyi and partners across the country, will investigate how the digital data revolution may change how we produce food and the nature of rural communities. The key objectives of this research are to conduct a cross country comparative investigation on how growers perceive the social impacts of emerging digital agricultural technologies and platforms for producers in Canada; to explore producers’ adoption and engagement with digital agricultural technologies especially in relation to the issues of equity, knowledge management and data accessibility; and to better inform policy decisions around investments in education and training focused on the development of data-driven agricultural technologies and competencies. A cross country collaboration, co-applicants include researchers from Dalhousie University, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, University of Saskatchewan, University of Fraser Valley and The University of British Columbia.

Collaborating with Dr. Fraser and Dr. Laxmi Pant, Dr. Krishna KC is the Principal Investigator on a SSHRC Insight Development grant will assess the role of under-utilized food grains to promote food security in Indigenous Communities. Indigenous food security strategies are often ignored as incumbent food security strategies fail to promote minor food grains cultivation (e.g., buckwheat and upland rice in Nepal) or harvest (e.g., wild rice in Canada). The potential for diversity of crops that can thrive without necessarily making local food traditions inferior over exotic foods will be explored through the support of SSHRC. The overall goal of this project is to examine how the diversity of traditional, under-utilized and marginal food grains can be promoted among indigenous communities to develop local food security strategies to sustainably build their prosperity and ecological resilience.

Dr. Loring successfully secured a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant for the collaborative project “Coastal Routes”. Coastal Routes is an international collaboration that seeks to support coastal communities in Canada and abroad seeking to develop more resilient and sustainable food systems. Through networking, knowledge mobilization, and comparative case study research, Coastal Routes will explore how communities are achieving climate change resilience and sustainable coastal food systems, facilitate dialogue and rapid social learning across a network of communities and, bring stories of coastal community innovation into the public discourse about Canada’s future.

This research is an important part of advancing Canada’s place as a global leader in agri-food by providing greater insight on the relationship between digital technology and producers, and on diverse food production systems’ impact on food insecurity. We look forward to seeing these projects unfold and lead to dissemination of innovative educational material to help inform Canadian youth about food security issues, to advancing our understanding of on-farm social impacts from the digital agricultural revolution, and explore the role of indigenous food traditions in maintaining or improving food security in indigenous communities.