Brief by the National Farmers Union, February, 2013
Summary of brief:
Growing Forward 2 (GF2) is Canada’s five-year federal-provincial-territorial cost-shared agriculture policy framework, which will be in effect from April 2013 until the end of March 2018. The goals of GF2 were laid out and agreed to by all the Agriculture Ministers (except for Ontario) in July 2011.
GF2 includes a “Business Risk Management” suite, also known as the safety net programs (see NFU BRM Recommendations ) which was announced in September 2012. The “Strategic Investment” suite dollars will be allocated to attain “competitiveness in domestic and international markets” and “adaptability and sustainability for the sector” using innovation and institutional and physical infrastructure. Two billion dollars of federal funds over 5 years will be cost-shared 60-40 by federal and provincial/territorial governments. Bilateral agreements for the Strategic Initiatives portion of GF2 are currently being negotiated between each province or territory and the federal government, and should be finalized by April 1, 2013.
The NFU has analyzed GF2’s “Strategic Initiatives” component and we have found that it continues and deepens the federal government’s commitment to policy goals that favour globalization and corporate control of agriculture while it marginalizes farmers, consumers and the land – a process that has been underway at least since 1981. Because the final GF2 agreement between the federal government and each province has not yet been made public, it was necessary to take a “broad strokes” approach to analyzing the policy framework.
Competitiveness and Market Development funds will favour export-oriented activities and further increase the market power imbalance between farmers and agri-business. Its focus on “competitiveness” will help the biggest companies become even bigger so as to compete internationally, while smaller companies will lose market share and farmers will be asked to take on more costs and risks while being pressured to further reduce prices. We note that pursuit of competitiveness has resulted in mergers and acquisitions (as opposed to investment in new capacity) so that large sectors of Canada’s food system are now owned by foreign corporations.
Innovation funds will only be available for activities arising from private-public partnerships. There is little doubt that funds will support research agendas that will be controlled by private interests for private gain, with a focus on saleable products. GF2 provides no support for public-interest, curiosity-based research. The innovation strategy also harnesses public institutions such as universities and the National Research Council to serve the corporate sector. We point to the negative effects of innovation in the area of GMOs, which have harmed markets and discounted prices to farmers. We suggest that the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a multi-thematic approach that embraces nutritional security, livelihoods, human health and environmental sustainability provides a better model to guide policy around innovation. (See http://www.agassessment.org)
Adaptability and Industry Capacity funds will support regulatory harmonization with US and other trading partners. It will offer a regulatory environment friendly to global corporations and impose increased responsibilities and costs on farmers. GF2 accelerates the privatization of governance over food safety and concentrates decision-making over food and agriculture into the boardrooms of agri-business corporations. GF2 appears to have eliminated the popular Environmental Farm Plan program. The new environmental programs will be top-down, with priorities set by Ottawa. GF2 does not address important needs of young farmers who choose not to go down the high-input, capital intensive, long-term debt route, and thus fails to deal with renewal, a key element of sustainability.
GF2 is intimately linked with the trade agreements – responding to the conditions created by, and implementing measures agreed to in trade deals such as CETA. The NFU notes that during public consultations leading up to GF2 many people asked for significant changes to the food system to better promote health, economic justice and environmental stewardship. Their input has been largely ignored and their values reframed as niche market opportunities.
We conclude our brief by recommending that the federal-provincial-territorial agricultural strategy be re-oriented. Were Canada to instead harness these funds to policies rooted in food sovereignty and fair trade, we would create a more inter-dependent, ecologically sound, inventive, responsive agriculture and food system in Canada — one that is governed democratically by the citizens who live and work here.