Untying food aid may short farmers: NFU

Canada’s decision to completely decouple its food aid from requirements to source that aid domestically could short farmers both in developing countries and here at home, the National Farmers Union warns.

The federal government on Wednesday opened up its food aid procurement policy to allow up to 100 per cent of its food aid to be procured internationally, compared to a previous requirement for 50 per cent of aid to be sourced in Canada.

Aid agencies have previously called for developed countries’ food aid to be untied in this way. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which got a 25 per cent funding boost worth $5 million from the government on Wednesday, hailed the move as a better way to get appropriate food to areas of need more quickly, at reduced cost, while strengthening local and regional markets for farmers in developing countries.

However, NFU president Stewart Wells said in a press release Friday that the move means “Canadian farmers are being punished for the mistakes of others.”

Wells, who farms at Swift Current, Sask., said the NFU for years has called for the government and aid organizations to publish lists of food purchases if Canadian food aid were to be untied.

Such a list, he said, “would give Canadians and Canadian farmers some assurance that the foodstuffs were actually being purchased from farmers close to the affected regions and were not coming off of the nearest multinational boat in any given harbour.”

By the “mistakes of others,” Wells referred to the marketplace, which for years up until recently sent the wrong market signals to farmers worldwide, even while food stocks were clearly falling; domestic policies that allow for “the burning of food in vehicle gas tanks;” and international policies that are “forcing farmers off the land all around the world and forcing the remaining farmers to plant crops destined for international trade instead of feeding people within the region.”

Ottawa, the NFU said, “is once again creating the opportunity for multinational food companies to benefit at the expense of Canadian farmers. In short, Canadian farmers are being falsely presented as the problem instead of the solution as millions wonder where their next meal is coming from.”

The federal government’s announcement Wednesday didn’t specify how much of Canada’s food aid will still be sourced domestically. However, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda was quoted by Reuters as saying she was confident Canada would continue to be a source of food bought for aid, as its produce was of high quality.

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank on Wednesday said it will “continue to procure food commodities in Canada when it makes sense to do so.”

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