KPU Institute Researches Possibilities for Food Self-Reliance in B.C.
Featured / June 7, 2017
Institute for Sustainable Food Systems helps imagine the province’s ability to feed itself
Alyssa Laube, Associate Editor
Food production in Southwest B.C. is a rapidly evolving industry. Amid environmental concerns regarding the province’s population growth, the B.C. government is considering what the future of food production here should look like in the coming years.
A research project by KPU’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems is helping to imagine these possibilities, with a refined focus on increasing food production while benefiting the economy, environment, and job market for British Columbians. Their findings have already been endorsed by 23 municipal and regional governments and organizations since being published.
“We spend about $8.5 billion on food every year,” says Kent Mullinix, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems. “It’s a huge part of our economy, and very little of the economic activity of food benefits our local economies because it’s controlled by transnational corporate entities.”
The Institute’s project covers Southwest B.C. as a bioregion, or an area defined by its common topography, wildlife, and culture. One baseline—which represents the state of the food system in 2011—and four future scenarios for localizing the bioregion’s food system by 2050 were modelled in order to explore options for systemic reform.
The first scenario, Business-as-Usual Food Production, sees crop and livestock production remaining unchanged while population rises. This would barely improve the economy, while also failing to serve the environment or demand for food in Southwest B.C.
The second, Increase Food Self-Reliance, sees “strategic reallocation of crop and livestock production to meet local food needs and increase food self-reliance,” without using more land. This method would improve food production and self-reliance, economic performance, and food imports, but wouldn’t impact carbon stocks and habitat connectivity, nor would it help the environment.
The third, Mitigate Environmental Impacts from Agriculture, is similar to the prior method, with the added benefit of enhancing environments and nutrient levels in food systems. It would put a cap on land availability and livestock production and have both positive and negative environmental effects, but food production and self-reliance would boom slightly, as would the economy.
The final scenario, Expand Agricultural Land in Production, calls for using more land for food production on top of the demands of the Mitigate Environmental Impacts from Agriculture plan. This would result in a hike in food production and self-reliance as well as economic indicators, but would ultimately do little good in an environmental sense.
While the research team working on the project did not recommend any one scenario in their summary, they do suggest that governments, business people, and other invested individuals use their findings as a jumping-off point for further research. They acknowledge that the project is the first of its kind, as far as they know, and there is still much work to be done.
“We need to effectively bring about regional food systems, and by that, I really mean community-focused food systems,” says Mullinix, “from production to processing, distribution, sales, and consumption that are focused on our communities and how they can contribute to us achieving what we need to achieve in terms of economic activity, environmental stewardship, and society.”
He adds that eliminating the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes is also key to making progress in food sustainability and self-reliance in Southwest B.C..