Food Systems & Agriculture

The production of food will have to keep up with our increasing global population. However, there are serious environmental impacts from plant and animal agriculture and food transport. Although it feeds us, agriculture depletes resources and creates nutrient imbalances. Firstly, agriculture contributes to landscape deformation, deforestation, and decreased biodiversity, due to how much land is needed (1). To keep up with the growing global population, amounts of farmland will need to continually increase (1,2). Furthermore, farming uses huge amounts of water – the agricultural sector is responsible for about 70% of freshwater use worldwide (2). Lastly, large quantities of nitrogen fertilizers are used in crop production. Nitrogen from these fertilizers makes its way into surrounding rivers and streams, and eventually the ocean, where it triggers algae blooms that deplete nutrients and create ‘dead zones’ (3). Agriculture contributes 11% of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from “mass-scale factory farming” and 14.5% from livestock; this includes the energy required to keep livestock alive, and the methane produced by the animals themselves (4,5). For example, cattle produce methane through the digestion of plant fibers, which is then released into the atmosphere though ‘eructation,’ more commonly known as burping (4). Of all meat products, red meat is responsible for the highest rates of GHG emissions. A study in Environmental Science and Technology found that dietary choices could be effective in limiting carbon footprints, as the authors found that changing our diets to include just one less day of red meat products, replacing with chicken, fish, eggs, or vegetable-based meals would be more effective at lowering GHG emissions than buying all locally sourced food (6).

Challenges to Food Production

While some areas of agriculture contribute to the climate crisis, others will suffer from it. Climate change will bring a number of challenges for Canada’s farmers, including rises in the risk of flooding, higher summer temperatures, and frequency of extreme weather patterns, as well as severe drought and heat waves (7). Runoff from melting snow and ice can cause flooding, which could lead to infrastructure damage, soil nutrient loss, contamination of groundwater tables, increased erosion, and decreased water quality (8). Also, the unpredictability of the weather could lead to more bud kill in winter and frost in the growing season which would impact a crops ability to grow (8). On top of this, the increase in drought and heat waves will significantly decrease crop yields across the Prairie provinces and create difficulties for livestock farmers (7). Higher temperatures will also increase inland evaporation and could increase the number of pests, invasive species, and diseases, all of which are factors that will hurt, or even stop crop growth (8). Many of our food systems (e.g. vegetable farming) rely on pollinators such as bees and butterflies, a group of insects which are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (9). According to a 2019 report, “evidence indicates that the primary drivers of bee declines are habitat loss, lack of forage, pesticides, and parasites”, all of which climate change contributes to (9). Due to this, the climate crisis could be responsible for many species extinctions over the next 100 years if steps are not taken to protect these populations (9). Around 75% of crop production, and 90% of wild flowers, depend on pollinators, and their disappearance would wreak havoc on our food systems (10).

 

Solutions

While the land used for agricultural purposes amounts to only about 7% of Canada’s total, the sector contributed to about 10% of national GHG emissions in 2013 (11). We have already seen how Canadian farms are at risk due to climate change. Several farmers in Canada are currently looking to implement sustainable farming practices, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Change and Land report (12), which suggests “soil-based carbon management,” reduced deforestation, and lower rates of food waste (1). Canadian farmers are already working on carbon management, which means increasing the amount of organic carbon in the soil (the more carbon stored in the soil, the less there is in the atmosphere), a practice which benefits both crop growth and the environment (12). Further, a Canadian House of Commons report in 2018 recognized the impacts of climate change to agriculture and the vulnerability of Canadian farmers to these changes. The report offers several recommendations for possible action, including continued support for related scientific research, increasing investment into sustainable and organic agriculture, and the development of programs that will help farmers adapt to effects (13). Agriculture in Canada is simultaneously contributing to, and being endangered by, the climate crisis. Many reports have discussed the potential damages, as well as potential solutions. It is evident that Canada needs to act to both reduce the environmental impact of our agriculture industry, as well as prepare farmers for the impending effects of a changing climate. Moving forward, the best strategy for this is to adhere to international guidelines for sustainable and resilient farming (1,12,13).

About Us

Shake Up The Establishment is a youth-led, registered (#1190975-4) national non-partisan non-profit organization that operates within the geographical confines of what is currently known as "Canada", but what is referred to by its First Peoples, as Turtle Island. Indigenous peoples have inhabited Turtle Island for over 10,000 years, and were the sole inhabitants less than 500 years ago. We acknowledge that our address resides on Treaty 3 land, and is the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas Peoples. Turtle Island is still home to many Indigenous peoples and we at SUTE are thankful to be able to live, learn and work on this territory, whilst continuing to create meaningful change for the climate justice movement. We are aware that our actions as an organization and the work we put out have an impact on our land, and on all that inhabit it. We are humbled to be able to follow the lead of centuries long Indigenous-led efforts towards the protection and stewardship of this land and the people that inhabit it. We are committed to continually evaluating & decolonizing our practices, and we do our best to incorporate the lived experiences of the land defenders and protectors within our work. We also want to honour the voices of Black, and non-Black people of colour within our work, and continually recognize their resiliency in the face of years of systemic oppression as imposed by the Canadian state.

 

Our enterprise is inclusive of all folx who call the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, home, and we celebrate the horizontal learning that comes from our diverse identities. As an organization, we will try our utmost best to ensure that only individuals with lived experiences are speaking on behalf of their communities, while still recognizing that Black, Indigenous and communities of colour as well as the LGBTQ2S+ community, are not a monolith. We firmly believe in accountability, and commit to being as transparent as possible in our activism space; to research our topics well, support and centre community care, and minimize any harm, no matter the intent. We have strict policies and procedures to uphold these tenets, and update these on a yearly (or as-needed) basis.

106-325 Winterberry Drive, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8J 0B6

© 2020 Shake Up The Establishment

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