Trade a Key Component of Climate Resilience for Food System
The COVID-19 pandemic caused supply chain disruptions which included the food sector. Some of these disruptions were short term - lack of buffer inventory and plant closures due to employee outbreaks - and have largely resolved. There are have been some longer term impacts due to things like slower movement through ports which has constrained shipping capacity and led to ongoing supply chain issues which are reducing or slowing supply and increasing prices. These supply chain issues have generated calls for localization and an increased focus on local food chains to reduce our dependence on longer less resilient supply chains. While a strong and resilient local food system is important, it would be dangerous to disengage from global food supply chains, particularly given the uncertainty and extreme weather events arising from climate change. Trade is an essential element of resiliency to ensure supply, reduce price volatility, and support food security.
We are seeing many examples of climate change driven extreme weather events which are causing reductions in production. A drought in Western Canada has led experts to reduce crop yield projections significantly. Canadian wheat production is forecasted to decrease by almost 40% year over year because of dry conditions in the west. Canola production is also expected to decrease by more than a third. The lack of feed is also causing beef producers to cull herds which will reduce the supply of calves for several years to come. Both crop and livestock production will be further constrained if the drought persists into the next growing season. The Western US is similarly dry. This not only affects grain and beef production in the western plains but also water supply for winter produce production in California, Arizona, and other states. The ability to offset some of the supply and associated price pressure from other markets provides stability. This sort of integrated food system will provide resilience in the face of the increasingly common climate change driven supply disruptions. It is clear that climate change brings much greater uncertainty for producers, increasing yield and price risk, but consumers are protected by our trade.
It is also important to remember that Canadian agriculture depends significantly on trade. We export a significant volume of our farm production. We can increase the strength and resilience of our domestic system but we need to understand that there are other risks to the food system than supply chain disruptions. A strong Canadian system needs trade for stability and to supply the domestic market effectively. In the rush to strengthen domestic food systems we shouldn't lose sight of the critical role that trade plays in ensuring food security and system stability, particularly as climate change increases the uncertainty in agricultural production.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, Michael. "Trade a Key Component of Climate Resilience for Food System". Food Focus Guelph (118), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, Oct.5, 2021.