Impact of Climate Change on Food Security in Canada

2021-07-27

 |  Food/Agriculture

In 2018, Canada was home to 4.5 million people living with food insecurity. This number has grown by over a third since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and will continue growing in the future. Defined as the inability to acquire food in a socially acceptable way, the causes of food insecurity are often linked to a household’s income, ethnicity, and disability. These issues are deep-rooted in systemic inequality, which sees regions densely populated with people of color and other minorities most at risk of food poverty. The scale of food insecurity in Canada is expected to grow significantly in the coming years as the impacts of climate change become more evident and compound on the plethora of existing causes. 

While we commonly hear phrases like ‘Global warming!? Good, I long to live in a warm country because I hate the rain here!’, this is in and of itself a warped perception of what the impacts of climate change are. Climate change is already having significant impacts on local, regional and global weather patterns. Rising greenhouse gases emitted from anthropogenic activity cause a warming effect by trapping heat close to the Earth. This causes irregularities in long-established wind and rain patterns, altering typical seasonal weather. What was considered a once-in-1000 year storm or drought has now established itself as an annual norm. 

The knock-on effects these seasonal irregularities have on agriculture are becoming ever more present. Crop failure and herd culling due to an unexpected and prolonged drought has become a reality for many farmers. Unpredictable weather patterns, usually presenting themselves as periods of excessive or negligible rain, alter many aspects of the modern agricultural system. Without water, crops die of thirst, and cattle herds are culled to prevent them from meeting the same fate. The cost of an irrigation system, which will likely have a negligible positive impact on arid and depleted soils, paints a vivid picture of farmers throwing their hard-earned cash down the drain. On the opposite end of the scale, flooding due to torrential or prolonged rainfall suffocates crops while having other knock-on effects, including water pollution through agricultural run-off. 

In both scenarios, crop failure is the first domino that will eventually cascade into more Canadians living with food insecurity. While it is easy to assume we can live without fruits and vegetables, crops are essential to feeding the animals in our meat and dairy industry. They are also the foundation of our favorite sweet and savory dishes. According to the FAO, over 150 plant species are cultivated for human consumption. Of these crops, specific ones like wheat, rice, and maize account for 50% of the food consumed globally. The Canadian agricultural system, primarily located along the Prairies, is already suffering from prolonged and abnormal drought conditions. The impacts of such crop failures will soon be felt by the masses across the country. 

These issues must be urgently recognized and addressed by the Federal Government of Canada. While climate change is expected to exacerbate drought in Canada, current agricultural practices, land conversion, mass ranching, monocropping, and animal agriculture drive pre-existing arid conditions. Organizations like Reimagine Agriculture are assisting young people to have their concerns on drought and food security heard by the Canadian Government. Together, with the right policy, education and regulation, we can realign our diets and lifestyles with the ecological capacity of our Earth.