by Guy Dauncey, March 27th 2020 Updated March 30th.
Our food chain in BC is hugely dependent on imports, making it extremely vulnerable. On Vancouver Island, 95% of our food arrives on the ferry.
BC has tens of thousands of acres of farmland that are lying fallow, or growing hay for horses that serve no agricultural purpose. In the Cowichan Valley Regional District there are 17,700 hectares of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, of which in 2010 only 10,840 hectares were in agricultural production, and only 2,120 hectares were set up for irrigation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is growing in its reach every day. Now is the time to be planning for worst-case scenarios, including:
- Mexico fails to control the spread, and so many farmers get sick that farm exports collapse, and people begin to distrust what little food does arrive from Mexico.
- California and Florida run into the same problem due to the spread of the virus among farm-workers.
- Enough BC Ferries workers have to go into isolation that ferry operations become difficult.
- The virus spreads to truckers in Mexico and America, reducing food shipments.
- Lacking seasonal immigrant workers, many Canadian farmers are unable to harvest this year’s crops. The Seasonal Worker Challenge
- There will be a breakdown of social order, if people fear there will not be enough food. People on lower incomes and the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit, while those with money to buy food and hunker down.
This is not scaremongering. It’s scenario planning, so that we are ready if or when these things come to pass. The virus could be with us for a long time, and it is spreading very rapidly.
- Is the BC Ministry of Agriculture planning to impose food quantity purchasing limits (eg 3 of each food item per customer). RESPONSE: YES: included in the Emergency Program Act. And to punish profiteering with serious fines? We can’t undo the hoarding that has already happened, but we must impose supermarket restrictions to prevent any more from happening. RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning to finance BC’s 100 Food Banks to purchase supplies to sustain their essential service for 80,000 people and their families? RESPONSE: YES. $3 million in direct funding just announced.
- Is the Ministry creating contingency plans for serious rationing? We know how to do this, but it takes time to prepare. We just have to look to Britain’s wartime food rationing, which continued until 1954 for some items. RESPONSE: Not yet.
- As soon as sufficient test kits are available, is the Ministry planning to require COVID-19 testing for farm-workers, to minimize the risk of the virus spreading among them? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry taking steps to ensure that farm and garden supply stores are able to remain open, and to keep supply chains operating? March 27th RESPONSE: YES. These are now listed as an essential service under BC’s Emergency Program Act.
- Is the Ministry planning legislation that will motivate more farmland owners to grow food, such as paying farmers $5,000 an acre for all new farmland brought into production, and raising the farmland tax relief threshold from $2,500 to $10,000 of farm income? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning to offer zero-interest loans to help farmland-owners acquire farming equipment, and to invest in irrigation, no-till agriculture and ecologically-sensitive field drainage? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning to invest $10 million to expand Agriculture Extension Services and Horticultural Training Programs, and to develop programs that emphasize agro-ecological food production, both to increase farmland resilience and to reduce the use of fossil fuels to make nitrogen-based fertilizers, to address the climate emergency? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning to allow farmworkers to live on the land where they work, both to enable efficient farming and to give them better isolation against COVID-19? The ALR needs to adjust its rules that limit the residential use of farmland, allowing the use of camping, clustered trailers or tiny homes for farmworkers and their families, with compost toilets and grey water treatment systems. Is the Ministry planning legislation allowing municipalities and regional districts to over-ride zoning rules that prohibit such residential uses? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning to implement a $15 guaranteed minimum wage for all farmworkers? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning ahead for future supply management for all critical food crops, with guaranteed wholesale prices, enabling farmers to grow the food we need without fearing financial loss? Prices can be adjusted upwards to meet shortages and downwards suppress surpluses, enabling a steady supply of food. RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning ahead for future supply management to encourage a steady reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy, as we also strive to tackle the climate emergency? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Without seed, farmers can’t grow food. Is the Ministry planning to incentivize farmers to grow crops for seed by establishing a high guaranteed price for seeds? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning to establish a BC Seeds Agency, giving it a mandate to do whatever is needed to ensure that BC’s farmers have sufficient seeds as the land under cultivation increases? RESPONSE: Not yet.
- Is the Ministry planning to ask our best legal minds to explore likely conflicts with the US-Canada-Mexico Agreement, and possible negotiated solutions? We cannot sacrifice human lives and the stability of our Canadian society on the altar of shareholder-value-maximizing free trade. Free trade agreements make no allowance for a crisis such as this, and they accord no importance to the resilience of local and regional food systems, and food supply chains. RESPONSE: Not yet.
Guy Dauncey, March 27th 2020. Updated March 30th 9am.