Thursday, October 12, 2006

Giving Thanks: Ensuring Food Security for All

For most Canadians, Thanksgiving is a time to eat large quantities of turkey and enjoy the company of family and friends. It's the least commercialized (and therefore less stressful) of all of our statutory holidays, and provides an opportunity to actually enjoy a long weekend while the weather's still decent. As an added bonus, the mass marketing machine has yet to identify Thanksgiving as a "giving" holiday, so there's no pressure to buy Thanksgiving presents or cards, perhaps making it the least expensive holiday, too.

Thanksgiving, as the name so clearly suggests, is also about giving thanks for the bounty of the season. It's important to not only give thanks for the food on our table, but also to express our gratitude to the people who grow it. The best way to do that is to support local agriculture by buying fresh fruits and vegetables from farmer's markets. The food is fresher, tastier, and you'll be surprised at the varieties that are grown locally.

Buying directly from the producers also puts money directly into farmers' pockets. At a time when there is so much pressure on farmers to sell their land to developers, it's important that we support local agriculture financially. Take some time this weekend to visit a local market or orchard and pick your own apples and pumpkins for pie making.

If you really must buy your produce in the grocery store, buy Ontario grown produce. Supporting our local agricultural system isn't just about keeping farmers in business. Agriculture has become a global industry. And like every other industry, business generally goes to the cheapest producer, usually in a developing country.

To illustrate the point, I recently purchased some fall mums at my local Loblaws store, something I usually do this time of year to perk up my otherwise fading flower garden. I bought the flowers at Loblaws because they were on sale for $ 3.99, versus $ 5.00 or more at other stores and garden centers. When I got the flowers home, I noticed a fairly large "Made in China" sticker on the plastic pots that contained them. I thought it was interesting that the manufacturer would want to put a prominent sticker on a plastic pot, until I realized that the flowers themselves originated in China. The flowers were started as seedlings before being placed on ships, referred to as "agri-boats", and then grown during the long journey to Canada. I checked the other more expensive mums available, and they had stickers indicating that they were Canadian grown.

This is just one example of how local agriculture is being replaced by cheaper, global suppliers. The result, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, is that local agriculture has become a minor player in many industrialized economies.

Conversely, agriculture is becoming increasingly important in developing countries. Unfortunately, like my Chinese mums, much of the food production in these countries is destined for export. Producers are at the bottom of the agribusiness supply chain, which according to the FAO, "Includes transportation, processing, wholesaling and retailing, selling commodities such as rice and wheat, high-value crops like vegetables and niche products such as cut flowers." Or potted ones.

In others words, little money, or food, remains in the communities where it is produced. The result is that an estimated 854 million people in the world are undernourished. To make matters worse, the FAO reports that foreign aid for agriculture and rural development has declined from over $ 9 billion (US) in the early 1980s to less that $ 5 billion (US) in the late 1990s.

If we are to ensure food security for all, then we must invest in agriculture both locally and globally. This Thanksgiving, give financial support to global efforts to reduce starvation through organizations such as The Hunger Project, make a donation to your local food bank, and don't forget to buy local produce. And if you see a farmer, remember to say thank you.


World Food Day is held annually on October 16th, to mark the anniversary of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. This year's theme is "Investing in agriculture for food security."

The Hunger Project is a not-for-profit, global strategic organization, committed to the sustainable end of world hunger.

The find the nearest farmer's market or U-Pick nearest, you, visit The Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Board.


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