Toward greater food autonomy in Québec

Pascaline David

Special Collaboration

April 18, 2020

Vers plus d’autonomie alimentaire au Québec

Photo: Getty Images / iStockphoto
“It is possible to eat entirely from our agriculture in canada and quebec, it is possible”, assured the chairman of the UPA.

This text is part of the special Earth Day

COVID-19 forces, food security is reduced in the center of the debate. Since the late 1980s, the proliferation of free trade treaties has led to a significant decline of food self-sufficiency of Quebec from 80% to 30 % today, while the province’s exports of mass products such as pork and maple. If François Legault has reiterated its determination to move towards more self-sufficiency in food during her daily press briefings, the transition must be done gradually.

“Have we gone too far ?” asks the general president of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), Marcel Groleau, in an opinion piece published on the website of the trade union organization. He believes that too many levers are essential to the national security are out of our control. It is a cry of alarm launched in the face of the too great dependence of Canada and Quebec to the balance of the international markets where everything can be quickly overwhelmed in times of crisis.

What about foreign labour ?

“We rely on average 55 % of imports to feed us, especially from the United States to fruits and vegetables “, says Marcel Groleau. For the time being, it is impossible to make a diagnosis on the volume of supply of fruit and vegetables in the coming months. The paralysis of the economy has created a rupture in several channels deproduction, in particular, with slaughterhouses that operate in slow motion. The cessation of purchases of hotels and restaurants has taken an additional blow to the industry.

“There will probably be no shortage as such, but rather an increase in the price, and it is the poorest people who will be first hit by this,” said Mr. Groleau. In countries where there is no social safety net, the consequences can be devastating. In 2008, when the price of grain has skyrocketed, the country exportateursde rice have limited the exchange to the fear of running out, and the import-dependent countries found themselves short of these commodities, which have led to riots.

Currently, the major concern of agricultural producers is the lack of manpower in the farms, who hired every year as temporary workers from Mexico and Central America. “This calls into question the plans of seeding some of the farmers, who are questioning on whether to go towards goods requiring less labour,” said Marcel Groleau. As in France, the government Legault tries to overcome this problem by appealing to a workforce that is quebec, which will be available until September, for the harvest.

“Eat local more than ever “

While we are all now accustomed to eating broccoli, strawberries or bananas twelve months of the year, the Quebec adapted once their diet according to seasonal availability in local. “It is possible to eat entirely from our agriculture in canada and quebec, it is possible,” says Marcel Groleau. This will be pursued through a regime that relies on the local. “

And for the president of the UPA, it is a choice that depends greatly on consumers. “Farmers can’t push consumers to eat what is made at home, but if there is a demand, nousproduirons according to this,” he said. For this, Quebec will, however, need to be better guided and informed. The recent creation of the blue Basket, an Internet site that includes the companies of quebec, is a first encouraging initiative. According to Groleau, the local dimension should also be part of the canadian food Guide.

The UPA has itself initiated the movement to “Eat locally, more than ever,” to give visibility to local producers and highlight concrete actions such as a subscription to a basket of organic from the farmers Network of family, a solidarity network of truck farms certified organic or in the process of being, which put forward a short-circuit implementation enmarché. A more sustainable system also, since the reduction of the transport distances of goods reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases.

Large grocery stores will also have to contribute more. For example, in a single stall, it is possible to see written “tomatoes in the greenhouse in Quebec,” and, in addition to small below, “and/or Mexico” when those of la Belle Province are not available. “It is necessary to check, because 9 times out of 10 these are tomatoes from Mexico,” says Groleau. It should be that the labelling rules are much more clear and demanding, so that people can make informed choices. “Instead of allowing free rein to the desire of the food shops, the legislation should, therefore, be more firm according to him.

Sustainable Agriculture

In the medium term, it will be wise to move towards a more sustainable agriculture. The president of the UPA states that the land in canada continue to be very fertile and in good condition. “In Quebec, we already have a sustainable agriculture, but it could be more environmentally friendly,” he admits. For the past ten years, we work a lot on issues of compaction and enrichment by organic matter, the equipment perfect, and it is already in the dynamic to make our agriculture more sustainable. “

Some issues, such as the control of insects and weeds, require additional research to move forward, according to Mr. Groleau. The production of the apple for example, does not enjoy the necessary tools to be biological, because of the humid climate.

For the past few years, the UPA also suggests to regionalize the agricultural programs that currently apply to the provincial level in the same way in Abitibi or in Saint-Hyacinthe, where the conditions of productions are not all the same. She also wishes that the small agricultural enterprises are further supported.

The urban solution

Vers plus d’autonomie alimentaire au Québec

A recent study by the Laboratory on urban agriculture (AU/LAB), led by its director and a professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Éric Duchemin, indicates that the contribution of vegetable gardens to homes, community gardens and collective gardens is under-estimated when it comes to food security in cities.

In Montreal, from 35% to 50 % of the quebec population practice urban agriculture, which provides the requirements of fresh vegetables, during the summer season, 5 % of the population. This could include up to 250 000 people, more than 12 % of the population.

The City of Victoria has passed a motion in the last few weeks in order to grow vegetables rather than flowers in her municipal greenhouses. A strategy that is currently being considered by the government of Quebec, which has 900 greenhouses on its territory.

The business of urban agriculture, Lufa Farms is grown for its vegetables in greenhouses on a roof in Montreal and delivers food from local producers and often organic. She is currently completing the construction of its fourth and largest greenhouse, is a 1.5-acre, in the borough of Saint-Laurent, in Montreal.

This new greenhouse will allow Lufa to double its production of vegetables to feed 2 % of the island of Montreal. Eggplant, and ten varieties of tomatoes are grown without synthetic pesticides. The urban farm will also be more efficient in terms of energy efficiency and to capture rainwater, which is used in part to closed-circuit for irrigation. A system of composting-house will also be installed.

Before the substantial increase in orders with the COVID-19, Lufa is a view overwhelmed with orders delayed or cancelled, and was forced to adapt its delivery system. The company hired additional personnel for the packing of baskets and gradually increases the level of orders to get back on their feet.


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