On July 11, 2019, the Government of British Columbia announced the Food Security Task Force (Task Force) – a commitment identified in the 2019 Speech from the Throne. The Task Force has a mandate to provide recommendations on how to:
- Apply agri-technologies (“agritech”) to enhance sector productivity, economic competitiveness and sustainability, reduce waste and tailor productivity to market demands;
- Grow the emerging agritech sector in B.C. as a standalone economic sector that can produce technologies that will be in demand globally; and
- Support the objectives of CleanBC through the adoption of technologies and practices that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase access to fresh, healthy food and stimulate local economic activity.
British Columbians were invited to share their views on the ways in which B.C. can harness new technologies and innovations to efficiently produce more food, jobs and prosperity, while reducing waste. An online survey was created, and responses were summarized for consideration by the Task Force in the development of their final report. The Task Force also met in-person with over 100 people from the agriculture industry, business community and academia across and outside of the province. Findings from those engagements will be incorporated into their report of recommendations to Government that will be publicly available early this year.
- Online Engagement: July 11, 2019 to October 15, 2019
- In-Person Engagements: August to December 2019
Almost 450 individuals, ranging from farmers, consumers and others involved in the industry, participated in the online survey. Most respondents reside in the Vancouver Island/Coast and the Mainland/Southwest regions (41% and 23%, respectively), reflective of the most densely populated areas of the province.
Over 70% of survey participants agreed that food security should be a priority in B.C. and over half (56%) felt B.C. has the potential to support global food security. Some respondents expressed that government should prioritize efforts to ensure local food security, through increased availability of and access to B.C. products, over global food security.
Key themes of the online engagement survey included:
- Ensuring efficiency of B.C. farming (small-scale to commercial scale) with technology and innovation
- Addressing barriers to growth – e.g., high costs/lack of available land, inadequate infrastructure, labour shortages and climate change
- Leveraging B.C.’s competitive advantages – e.g., mild climate, clean environment (air, water, soil)
The Task Force met with over 100 people across and outside of British Columbia to hear their perspectives on how to support the agritech sector and ensure B.C. can capitalize on the opportunity to be a global leader in agricultural innovation. The Task Force held roundtables with companies and farmers in specific regions across the province; met individually with key business/industry associations; and hosted an academic roundtable with post-secondary institutions that offer agricultural programming.
The regional engagements in the Lower Mainland, Comox Valley, Okanagan, Cariboo and Peace regions included feedback on the unique challenges and opportunities related to agricultural innovation.
- Lower Mainland: strong recognition of the benefits related to developing and deploying innovative technologies; many companies are pursuing development and implementation of agritech solutions; opportunity for niche product development with improved infrastructure and incentives for technology adoption by the industry.
- Comox Valley: importance of protecting the sustainability of and the lifestyle that small-scale farming provides while incorporating/adopting technology and innovative practices to ensure high-quality food.
- Okanagan: barriers to exporting products and accessing markets/land to remain competitive; climate change shifting growing patterns; research centres supporting long-term innovation priorities.
- Peace: importance of adopting modest innovations to conserve existing resources (e.g., soil); challenges in accessing land, capital and transportation networks; opportunity to expand value-added food production.
- Cariboo: importance of sourcing/supplying local; lack of sufficient transportation and production/processing infrastructure to get product to market; challenges adopting technology due to inadequate connectivity.
Input leads to action:
The findings from the Task Force’s engagements will be incorporated into their final report, including recommendations, to government that will be made publicly available in early 2020.