Alex Binkley on the elephant in the room

The Binkley Report

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is www.alexbinkley.com. Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. In this edition ...

The hungry Elephant in the Room

Canada's agri-business can meet challenge of climate change

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

In all the hype and spin about the potential benefits of new free trade agreements, there’s rarely any mention of what should be a fact of life for farmers and the food industry.Image: Cover of Humanity's Saving Grace, a novel by Alex Binkley. Click to purchase at Amazon.ca

Thirty five years from now, the global population will exceed 9.5 billion compared to the 7 billion plus of today, notes Bill Kerr from the University of Saskatchewan. “That will require a 35% increase in the food supply from what the world currently is producing.” Not just more food but better quality products for increasingly demanding consumers in developing countries.

Kerr has no explanation for why the growing demand for food has become the elephant in the room in political and business discussions about the importance of trade agreements. It and the impact of climate change on farmers around the world deserve at least as much attention as tariff rates and market access rules negotiated in trade deals.

“Maybe everyone is just focused on today or next year,” Kerr suggests. “And no one seems to remember 2008 when food prices jumped when world grain stocks became tight.”

Canada is already a major food exporter and has the potential to expand its output to meet the growing demand, especially on the Prairies, he added.  In the future, it won’t be a lack of customers but infrastructure problems that will hold back the industry’s growth. Inadequate rail transportation and West Coast port congestion will be a bigger challenge for the food industry than opening or expanding new markets.

There have been calls about preparing farmers around for the world for the disruption that climate change will cause to their operations. The demands of the growing world population should also be factored into any future agriculture policy discussions.

Another puzzle for Kerr is the doom and gloom about the Canadian economy because of falling oil prices when the agri-food sector remains strong and poised to respond to the growing demand for food. Do many of our political and business leaders yet understand agri-food’s importance to the economy?

Most of the major trade deals that Canada has been involved in negotiating may come to pass but in the end may not matter much for the agri-food sector because the world will need everything we can produce.

This and climate change will be the challenge for farmers under  the age of 40 and those young men and women thinking about a future in the business.

 

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