Brightness from the Dark of the Pandemic

July 24, 2020 | Clarence Nywening

Brightness from the Dark of the Pandemic

As the economy slowly opens up from the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been thinking and writing about how the future can change – including in the agriculture and food sector.

As we all know, our industry struggled to keep the supply chains moving. Store shelves were emptied of certain products. Some farmers had to dump milk or leave crops in the field. We are still going through periods of extreme worry about our dependence on temporary foreign workers and how we can keep them safe from the virus.

Through it all, we have persevered. Perhaps now is a good time to start looking forward and thinking about how we can alter the system so that we not only survive, but thrive in the new normal.

Sollio Cooperative Group had an excellent opinion piece in RealAgriculture recently about five ways that our sector can be a real force in the economic recovery that needs to happen in the pandemic’s aftermath. Support for innovation will be key to unlocking opportunities for a future that values our environment, our financial stability and our frontline workers.

The Arrell Food Institute and the Canadian Agricultural Policy Institute have teamed up to develop the national Growing Stronger program. The two organizations are currently gathering input from everyone in the sector, including farmers, members of the indigenous community, migrant workers, urban consumers and researchers, to figure out what went wrong, what we got right and how we can do better.

Out of that will come themes, policy options and strategies. Ultimately, they are looking at producing conclusions and recommendations that could help build a more resilient future for our agri-food system.

Dominic Barton, Canada’s current ambassador to China, had it right long before COVID-19 with his powerful 2017 report. It said that Canada could be “the trusted global leader in safe, nutritious and sustainable food for the 21st century.

How we plan to achieve that goal may look different now, but we in the CFFO have faith that we can still do it. However, we need government to continue to be active partners in supporting agriculture through policy and innovation, well beyond the pandemic crisis.

We also have consumer backing on this. A recent survey by Grassroots Public Affairs showed that nine out of 10 Canadians think that the government should support the agri-food sector.  They even ranked our sector higher than science and innovation, oil and gas, and information technology in terms of its importance to the Canadian economy.

In the end, we need to pull together to move out of the pandemic and into a brighter tomorrow. Fortunately, farmers, processors, retailers and everyone else associated with our industry are well-equipped to do this.

To all our members, and to everyone working in the agriculture and agri-food industry, thank you for your perseverance.

Clarence Nywening is Interim General Manager for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.