From November 16th to 20th, COTA held our annual Organic Summit! This year, due to the pandemic,the Summit was virtual for the first time. We were very pleased to have so many sponsors, presenters,and participants engaged on this year’s theme – Climate Change and Organic Solutions. This topic isimportant to COTA (and our stakeholders) and we were pleased to see everyone participatingso passionately. It is a big subject to tackle, however, discussing how organic can help mitigate andprovide climate solutions through our speakers content and insightful research, gives us all a little morehope and inspiration that organic is the way to go.
Over the five day period, we offered 3 daily sessions as well as a free screening of the movie “The Needto Grow”. We had an incredible line up of speakers this year from across Canada and around the world!
To start us off, we had André Leu of Regeneration International and former President of IFOAMInternational, speaking to us about his new book “Poisoning our Children.” In his presentation, André touched upon some popular myths about food and agriculture, busted them and provided us with the truth. One example is the claim that all agriculture poisons are scientifically tested to ensure safe use. However, in reality pesticides can cause issues such as liver and kidney damage (Roundup Ready in particular) as pesticides tested individually, and not in combination with other chemicals which is more realistic in nature. In addition to the myths André shed light upon, he also shared research from his book, explaining that a newborn cannot break down toxic pesticides as they don’t have the protective liver enzymes that adults do, making pesticides absolutely detrimental to children’s health.
The workshop by Debra Hauer of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council and our very own Executive Director, Tia Loftsgard, was on Who Will Grow our Food? As climate change progresses andweather becomes more unpredictable, farmers take on more and more risk and remain disincentivized tocontinue farming. There is a labour shortage of 60,000 currently and the forecast proposes the labour gapwill double in 2029. New farming practices need to mitigate or adapt to climate change and it may require new skills that revolve around innovative practises that reduce drought and focusses on soil health. Farmers are getting older and there is a need to entice younger farmers to begin farming. The bigquestion from this workshop was “what can we do to entice younger farmers?” and how can farmersadapt and help mitigate climate change.
Navin Ramankutty of UBC ended day one with his presentation on Comparing the Performance ofOrganic Systems to Conventional.There were many areas where organic outperforms conventionalagriculture yet some key points and findings from this presentation included:
1. Organic yield is lower than conventional yield
2. Inter-comparison is unfair to organics (there is not enough investment or data in organic comparedto conventional over the last 50 years)
3. Organic needs to improve productivity and affordability
4. Organic needs to better identify contexts in which organic performs well
5. Organic standards should strengthen environmental best practices
6. Consumers need to think beyond food supply and focus on reducing food waste and shift to moreplant-based diets
Day two began with Paivi Abernethy, Adjunct Professor, University of Victoria and University of Waterloo,on Climate Change and Health. Paivi made the point saying “Climate change isn’t something that isgoing to happen, it’s something that is happening.” Diving into some long-term climate change influences on health, concerning the land, water cycle, air, and our food cycle, Paivi suggested that less fresh water, warmer waters, toxic bloom, and more are dangers to come without significant change being taken. She proposed we need to change the narrative and how we talk about climate change (ie) tell the story in away, inspired by indigenous thinking of determinants of health, around physical health, spiritual health, mental, and emotional. And not just physical as the western world often represents! Values and ethics oforganic farming need to be echoed. Some suggestions to mitigate climate change are strengtheningbiodiversity, individual animal/plant health, ecosystem resiliency, community, and food sovereignty.
The workshop, by Valeriya Staykova of CFIA, on CFIA Organic Updates. provided key updates on theCanadian Organic Office’s key accomplishments and priorities for the coming year, which will involvenegotiating with UK on equivalency due to Brexit, continued discussions with South Korea and Mexicoand the measures that CFIA is putting in place to strengthen organic integrity and reduce fraud.
Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network, closed day 2 onClimate Action and Agriculture. Some key takeaway points from her presentation include:
-Canada’s agriculture sector contributes 10% of Greenhouse Gas emissions in Canada
-Sea levels are rising at an alarming rate
-We are contributing to a higher global temperature
-We have to cut global emissions in half 25 GT globally yet Canada is on track to be around 56 GT in2030
-We need to reduce 7.6% emissions every year until 2030
-Emissions fell 17% during COVID which demonstrates the extreme measures that we will need to put in place to meet our targets
-Globally, Agriculture forestry and land use contribute to almost 20% of greenhouse gas emissions
-We need to shift our thinking about forestry, agriculture, land use by putting more priority into agroforestry, better cropland management, better livestock management, integrated water management
-Climate Action Network created 6 key points:
1. Put peoples health and well-being first, no exceptions
2. Strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people
3. Prioritize the needs of workers and communities
4. Build resilience to prevent future crisis
5. Build solidarity
6. Uphold Indigenous rights
Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of the Organic Center, presented on Organic Research and Climate Change. In her presentation, Dr. Shade provided the science behind the benefits of Organic agricultureand farming. Some highlights include:
-Direct emissions are on-farm fuel combustion
-Indirect are off the farm (fossil fuel to transport)
-Energy use: On average, organic crop production consumes 60% less energy than conventional.
-Organic vs. conventional on global warming: On average, organic crop production would generate 25%fewer global warming emissions and 80% less ozone depleting emissions
-Comparison of long-term carbon storage in conventional and organic soils, even with any practices, organic farms have significantly higher levels of sequestered soil carbon
-Organic full-till soils sequester more carbon than conventional no-till- Organic tillage systems have greater amounts of SOC than conventional no till
-There is a lot of evidence of organic reducing emissions and mitigating climate change
-Organic is going to continue to provide pathways to agricultural sustainability!
Day three’s workshop was held by Nicole Boudreau, of the Organic Federation of Canada, on the 2020 Organic Standards Updates. A few key highlighted to her presentation were:
In the final presentation of the day, Kris Nichols, Soil Microbiologist, KRIS Systems Education &Consultation, presented on Optimizing Soil Biology in Organic Systems to Increase Soil Carbon. Krisshed light on a scientific point of view on soil and organic systems, highlighting that we are at a pointwhere we have lost and are losing more and more viable soil, making the distinction between dirt andsoil. We now need to focus on the re-creation of soil with an emphasis on working with photosynthesisand utilizing green manure options. Moreover, we need a brown revolution with a focus on soil: optimizelandscape use, maximize efficiencies, multiple enterprises.
Carolyn Callaghan of Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) & Martin Settle of Seed Change began ourfourth day on Biodiversity, Conservation, and Sustainable Farming. There needs to be a focus onenvironmental sustainable agriculture: supporting environmentally sustainable land use and biodiversitystrategies, re-establish a public plant breeding system, and more. Some ecological goods and servicesrecommendations include:
Some agricultural recommendations include:
Insects are an important aspect being considered in building proper facilities for the Canadian nationalinsects: arachnid and nematode collection. Later, they suggested the need for stronger policies and morecollaboration between federal and provincial Governments. Keys to future impacts include:
The next workshop held by Executive Director of COTA, Tia Loftsgard and Carolyn Callaghan of CWF,titled Canada’s Farm to Fork Strategy.In essence, the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy wasdiscussed in light of the desire for a pan-Canadian strategy for sustainable agriculture and aquacultureand what valuable considerations should be taken into account if we were to push for a federal provincialstrategy like the EU’s.
Aabir Dey of Seed Change and Lisa Mumm of Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, shared the stage on day 4 presenting on Seed Sovereignty. Takeaways from their presentation included:
The Bauta Seed initiative on Canadian Seed Security objectives are
There needs to be more consideration of organic’s unique regulatory needs in the modernizationprogram and there is a strong need for a more developed organic seed system for Canada.
Goretty Dias (professor) and Shenali Madhanaroopan (Masters Student), of the University of Waterloopresented on theLife Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Organic Systems : Challenges and Opportunitiesfor Canada.There are multiple outcomes of an LCA such as green house gas emissions, land use, andmeasuring the impact of inputs. It is important to know not all LCA and Carbon foot printing studies areequal. There is a need to look at agriculture more holistically and not just through the carbon lens. Thereare trade offs and we need to see how we can improve organic on the areas mostly around the topic oflower yield and tillage.
Some challenges unique to organic systems:
1. Organic is not heterogeneous and difficult to measure
2. Ecosystem service availability for organic
3. Agroclimatic influences and land quality (temp, precipitation, soil type, etc)
Some opportunities for the upcoming organic LCA study occurring through funding of the Organic ScienceCluster
Maria Forero, Organic Specialist of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, presented on the AAFC Organic Engagement Plan. In a detailed manner, Maria described the process of the AAFC organic industry engagement plan which she hopes will fill the gap of not having an Organic Value Chain Roundtable (OVCRT). She reports there is a need for the following:
The final presentation of the Organic Summit was from Michael Ableman, author and co-founder of SoleFood Street Farms, on the topic go Local and Organic – Better Together. Through intriguing story-telling, Michael Ableman lead us through his life experiences from early day commune living on anorganic farm to exploring different forms of agriculture across the globe, through wonderful imagery. Michael demonstrated how a focus on local solutions can yield grand organic results, whether in ruralsettings or urban landscapes. Michael initiated Inner City Innovation in the USA, turning ruined andrundown downtown streets and people into thriving urban agricultural models and jobs for thehomeless. He then co-founded Sole Food Street Farms in Vanvouver. In 8 years, 75 people wereempowered to transform a vacant city block into 4+ acres of organic urban landscape, produce over 25tons of food annually, and employing those in need of work. He and his partner have been able to supplyinner city Vancouver with excellent food and training to people on areas such as agriculturaltraining, literacy, cooking, driving, and finance. A story of humanity, community, and the power ofagriculture and food brining people together.
As promised, everyone who registered will have access to the recordings and slides of eachpresentation. We are also going to be uploading some highlights on our YouTube channel soon so pleasefeel free to check out what you missed at this year’s annual Organic Summit!