We believe that fresh, nutritious, locally grown and pesticide-free fruits and vegetables are fundamental requirements for a healthy lifestyle, to which all Canadians should have access and be able to enjoy.
About 86% of fresh fruits and 39% of vegetables consumed in Canada are trucked in from Mexico, California, Florida and beyond, thousands of miles away. Located at the very end of a ±8000 km long logistics chain, Atlantic Canada and northern Canadian communities are particularly vulnerable. Our conservative estimates indicate a potential for import offset of at least ± $22.2M and 8M metric tonnes of imported food annually, if the food imported into the region was to be locally produced instead.
WHAT IS AIM TO GROW?
AIM to Grow is based on the recognition that more needs to be done to support local food production in Canada, and that innovative technologies can fill that need. The purpose of the AIM to Grow is to explore the potential, identify specific opportunities, build partnerships, and realize projects to further develop modern greenhouse/indoor growing technology in the Canadian Atlantic Provinces and northern communities.
The Netherlands is the world’s leading country in Controlled Environment Agriculture (or CEA technologies), recognized by economist Michael Porter as one of the world’s foremost agri-food clusters. CEA is based on the idea that plants have to be maintained in optimal growing conditions, and protected when necessary from the elements. Production can take place in a number of ways, such as in a greenhouse or building. Plants may be grown using hydroponic methods in order to supply the proper amounts of water and nutrients to the root zone.
CEA technologies include hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaculture, and aquaponics, and because plants are grown indoors, few if any pesticides are used.
AIM to Grow takes advantage of this know-how and wants to translate it into practical Canadian content, recognizing the need to adapt technologies to colder climates, and more rigorous growing conditions. Aim to Grow is also based on the quadruple helix comprising companies, educational and research organizations, government agencies, and the public, to develop meaningful ties between Dutch and Canadian partners, and to ensure the long-term success of the programme. Furthermore, opportunities exist for collaboration with local partners, including in testing and R&D, to fine tune existing technologies to better withstand the rigours and challenges of the Canadian climate, making Canada a leading partner in cold climate CEA technologies.
The cross-disciplinary aspects of this programme are of utmost importance to its success. The answer to the need to develop more year-round growing options does not, in this case, imply only putting up more greenhouses. It also implies having the know–how to build them, heat and light them, run them, and provide longer-term programs for education and training in order to get the most out of the greenhouse infrastructures, to manage them, and to handle the logistics, marketing and sales of products. Bilateral partnerships in R&D, education and training, and internships and related areas, will help to confirm and ensure our commitment and desire for strong, meaningful, reciprocal relations, and long-term ties between Canada and the Netherlands in this field.
(Source: The McConnell Foundation)
POTENTIAL FOR IMPORT OFFSET
Even though this statement regarding the potential economic benefits of locally grown food is sourced in the Province of Ontario, Canada, it is also relevant to all of Canada, and similar comparative advantages can be enjoyed in other provinces that could also boost the Canadian economy.
Our own conservative estimates indicate that if the equivalent amount of produce (based on five crops only – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, gherkins, and lettuce) currently imported into the region were to be locally produced (in greenhouses/vertical farms), there is a potential for annual import offset in the value of at least ± $22,193,760 and 8,050,000 metric tonnes of imported food.
Furthermore, if the greenhouses were to be heated using sustainable sources of heat (including unlimited readily available supplies of biofuels), this would further serve to increase the sustainability benefits and reduce the pollution caused from trucking these products thousands of miles away. In addition, several hundred types of crops are able to be produced using CEA technologies, and new crops are continually being tested and produced.
(Based on data provided by Statistics Canada, estimating the Atlantic Provinces population of 2,500,000 and Canadian population of 37 million. Note that the trucking distances were calculated only on a one-way basis, i.e. California to Halifax. Trucks would also have to return to a southern destination, causing further pollution).
AIM TO GROW
The need for Canadians to import large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables also means that the price fluctuates according to the value of the Canadian dollar, which is linked to the oil and gas industry. In 2015 due to the drop in the value of the Canadian dollar, the price increased by an average of 12%. The obvious potential for improvements in the Canadian agri-food sector by expanding local production through CEA know-how — which could lengthen the growing season and provide new opportunities to produce more locally grown, year-round, and pesticide-free food and other horticultural crops– is particularly appealing at this time. When considered in combination with the CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) between the EU and Canada, chances for further market development are promising for Dutch and Canadian organizations businesses working in the agri-food and related sectors.
The drop in the value of the Canadian dollar over the past years has further significantly increased the cost of imported fresh produce, making some common fruits and vegetables unaffordable for many. Research published by the University of Toronto in March 2016, stated than one in five children in the province of New Brunswick live in households that are struggling to put food on the table. The twin themes of Food Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security are currently of high importance in Atlantic Canada and northern communities, and many groups involved with various aspects of these issues are coming together to try to find ways to safeguard the access to fresh, affordable food for everyone. Modern CEA know-how can address some of these price and availability problems, and benefit the residents of the entire region.
While the use of CEA technology is expanding in some parts of Canada, notably British Columbia in the west, and Ontario in the central/eastern region, the Canadian Atlantic Provinces and northern communities could benefit from these technologies.
Northern communities Canada’s northern communities face additional problems and hardships to ensure that its residents have enough healthy, affordable food. One has only to look on the Internet to find photos of shops in northern communities with unimaginable food prices. While there are some government programs to help offset the costs of shipping food to the north, more can and should be done to develop ways to ensure that some products can be locally grown. AIM to Grow places a special focus on supporting Northern Canadian communities with local food production.