Water Security Makes Resilient Food Systems
In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began sending our Canadian cities into quarantine, grocery store queues lengthened and the shelves emptied. Although these empty shelves were primarily caused by a dramatic and sudden shift in the marketplace when grocers began taking on the brunt of consumer food distribution, many of us could not help but question the overall resilience of our food system.
What is a resilient food system?
A resilient food system is able to withstand shocks and stressors to provide secure, sustainable and equitable access to food. In a new report, responding to the COVID shock, Food Secure Canada delivered recommendations that governments and industries should consider to support equity and resiliency in our food systems post COVID. These recommendations included the call for actions to achieve “resilient ecological food systems” and “indigenous food sovereignty” in the context of inequalities, climate change and biodiversity loss . These goals however cannot be achieved without also securing the health of our freshwater sources and bodies. Maintaining the water sources which provide agricultural water, essential ecosystems services and habitat is critical to achieving resilient food systems and food security for all.
How exactly does water security play a role in food systems resilience and food security, especially in the context of climate change?
We need water to produce food. We need water both to nourish our livestock and irrigate our crops. As climate change progresses, with hotter drier summers, and the expansion of growing areas, demand for irrigation will increase. In order for us to support necessary agriculture and food production, whilst balancing other water needs, we must manage our water sources responsibly, especially as the water budget becomes tighter. Beyond the demand strain, agriculture can also affect the quality of water, particularly through algae blooms, if too much agricultural waste or excess nutrients finds its way into the water. Thus, it is critical to strike a balance between sustaining agriculture and sustaining healthy water bodies.
When water bodies are thriving, they provide beneficial ecosystem services for agriculture. For example, the biodiversity supported by water bodies, specifically wetlands, boosts crop pollination, organic matter, and provides a degree of pest control in local farm sites . Farmlands are buffered from floods by wetlands too, preventing crop loss. Wetlands can also mitigate the effects of agriculture by filtering nutrients and pesticide runoff, and supplementing water supplies, by holding water during droughts and replenishing groundwater . Maintaining healthy water bodies such as wetlands provides returns in food production and costs. Unfortunately, up to 70% of historic wetlands have been degraded or lost in Canada, primarily attributed to drainage for agricultural land. However as farmers experience challenges of growing food on these drained lands, some are reviving their wetlands, to improve productivity and reap the benefits of the ecosystem services.
In addition to providing ecosystem services, healthy water bodies also provide habitat for fish, game and traditional foods and medicines. These food sources are important to many, where they provide healthy, high quality and culturally appropriate sustenance. This is reason enough to advocate for freshwater protections. But we need this change now. Year after year, salmon stocks decline, as infrastructure, industrial activity and pollution disrupt their waters. Furthermore, climate change with its summer droughts and low snow packs have made spawning grounds and habitat unsuitable. We must protect the quality of our waters and ensure there is enough water left in rivers, lakes, streams and creeks to maintain the habitat needed to sustain salmon, as well as other life. Freshwater conservation also conserves food security and sovereignty.
Leveraging water policy for both water security and food security
In the post COVID recovery, we have the opportunity to immediately invest in stimulus projects that will build water security and food systems resilience within our communities. These projects will build capacity, as well as generate employment, economic development and build material security for communities by providing access to safe and secure drinking water supplies, sustainable food, and the ability to effectively plan and respond to future crises.
Following recovery spending, we must call on the Province to invest in the long-term resilience of our waterways and food systems by establishing a dedicated Watershed Security Fund. This funding will allow us to advance water sustainability in British Columbia by providing a dedicated, sustainable, annual funding source for First Nations, local government, local organizations and communities to get the job done.
Learn more about the plan to secure our waters and take action at codeblue.ca.
1. Ngyuen, Hahn. (2018). Sustainable food systems. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). http://www.fao.org/3/ca2079en/CA2079EN.pdf
2. Food Secure Canada. (2020). Growing Resilience and Equity. Food Secure Canada. https://foodsecurecanada.org/sites/foodsecurecanada.org/files/fsc_-_growing_resilience_equity_10_june_2020.pdf
3. Benalcazar, Paul; Kokulan, Vivekananthan; Lillo, Alexandre; Matteau, Jean-Pascal. (2019). The Contribution of Wetlands Towards a Sustainable Agriculture in Canada. The Canadian Agri Policy Institute.
4. Benalcazar, Paul; Kokulan, Vivekananthan; Lillo, Alexandre; Matteau,Jean-Pascal. (2019). The Contribution of Wetlands Towards a Sustainable Agriculture in Canada. The Canadian Agri Policy Institute. https://capi-icpa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/2019-10-09-CAPI-Wetlands-CAPI-Doctoral-Fellows-2017-19-group-paper_WEB.pdf