High inflation and deepening systemic inequalities are forcing an increasing number of Canadians to turn to food banks for groceries they can no longer afford, says Kirstin Beardsley, CEO of Food Banks Canada.
“Canada’s food banks are facing uncharted challenges with food bank usage at an all-time high according to Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2022 report, with almost 1.5 million visits in March 2022 – up 35 per cent compared to pre-pandemic visits during the same time period in 2019 – and employed people earning low incomes, students and seniors are the hardest hit and really struggling,” she says.
While many Canadians may associate food insecurity with less developed countries, it is also a serious issue in Canada.
“Today, hunger is a profound and entrenched element of the poverty cycle as people who previously were just getting by are now struggling to choose between housing, fuel or groceries,” says Ms. Beardsley. “Never in our history have more people been driven to visit food banks – and our outdated social security system means that until we make meaningful changes to address hunger at its root causes, more and more people will go hungry.”
As a sponsor of Food Banks Canada’s Rural Support Program for more than 20 years, Syngenta Canada, a leading science-based agtech company, sees first-hand the impact the organization makes in communities.
“We recognize that the challenge of food insecurity is complex and requires a multi-faceted solution, and we applaud the work of Food Banks Canada that is making a difference in the lives of so many Canadians,” says Trevor Heck, president of Syngenta Canada.
The Canadian agriculture industry is part of the solution to addressing the problem of food insecurity in Canada and around the world, he adds.
“Our sector can contribute significantly to food security through innovative technologies that ensure farmers can continue to increase crop yields sustainably and protect our food supply,” he says, adding that farmers grow more yield per acre than ever before with help of science-based agricultural tools and technology.
Mr. Heck notes that advancements in plant science innovations also help address food affordability.
He says research shows that without plant science innovations, prices would be 45 per cent higher on average for many food staples, which would cost Canadian families an extra $4,500 per year for food.
“When weeds, diseases and insects are uncontrolled in a field, they can devastate entire crops. Plant science products help to combat these pests, resulting in reduced food loss from farm to table,” says Mr. Heck.
He adds that apart from producing high-quality food for domestic use, Canada has a role to play in supporting food security in export markets.
“As a net food exporter, I expect there will be more pressure on Canada to contribute to food security globally – and we’re in a good position to rise to this challenge of producing a sustainable food supply. Not only do we have a worldwide reputation for producing safe, sustainable and high-quality food, we have the farmland, farmers, technology and research capacity to be part of the solution to global food insecurity,” says Mr. Heck.
According to the World Resources Institute, food production needs to increase 70 per cent by 2050 to feed a global population that will have reached nearly 10 billion by then, but climate change and the diminishing availability of land are major obstacles to achieving that goal.
“Climate change poses a significant threat to the food supply,” says Mr. Heck. “For example, an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather events, such as droughts and floods, can have a devastating effect on farmer prosperity and a significant impact on food availability.”
He points to plant science innovations that can help farmers mitigate the effects of climate change, such as products that improve the water productivity of plants and increase their tolerance to drought and heat. New technologies increasingly allow farmers to adopt climate-smart practices enabling them to grow more with fewer inputs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is critical, he adds, that Canadian farmers be given access to the tools they need to continue to grow safe, healthy and abundant crops in the face of constantly changing climate conditions.
“We must continue to push for science-based policies that enable innovation and a rules-based international trading order that allows Canadian agri-food products to protect our food supply and make their way around the world to those who want and need them,” says Mr. Heck.
For her part, Ms. Beardsley says to end food insecurity in Canada, everyone must come to the table.
“Food Banks Canada supports a network of 10 provincial associations and more than 4,750 hunger relief organizations from coast to coast to coast, in every province and territory,” she says. “Together, we work collaboratively towards a Canada where no one goes hungry.”
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.