Canadian Agri-Food Resilience

The following is the Introductory Section of the report ‘Canadian Agri-Food Resilience: A Toolbox for Managing Crises’, commissioned by The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute and funded in part by the Government of Canada under the Canadian Agricultural partnership’s AgriRisk Initiatives program. Reposted with permission.

After reading the article below, gain more insight into the report, its authors, and the increasing vulnerabilities the agri-food industry faces by watching a recent webinar on the topic. Click HERE to watch now!

Anyone who works in or knows the agriculture and agri-food sector would recognize that there are many challenges and risks but also opportunities and rewards. Although agriculture has always been characterized by wide-ranging uncontrollable risks – weather, pests, diseases, competitors, and markets – the growing commercialization and sophistication of production, processing, and marketing have created an evolving and complex environment for decision making. 

The past three years introduced significantly increased risk pressures on the Canadian agri-food industry and its supply chains, with the multi-year impacts of COVID, the war in Ukraine, and increasingly more difficult supply chain issues (such as the availability of ships and containers, the blockage of the Suez Canal, damaged or destroyed transportation infrastructure, and labour shortages or strikes). 

For a healthy and resilient Canadian agri-food ecosystem to thrive, it is critical that the industry’s complex and dynamic supply chains function effectively and efficiently both inside and outside of Canada. It is critical that these supply chains be resilient and adaptable in a world of increasing risk. Stakeholders need to be willing and able to navigate the agri-food risk landscape and develop the appropriate responses to changing conditions. Responsive policies, programs, actions, and strategies built through consultation and collaboration are required to create and maintain a thriving agri-food sector. As we will see, a new level of shared situational awareness — sophisticated comprehension of what is going on, what is important, as well as future implications — will support and maintain Canada’s enviable position in this sector. 

Industry stakeholders are familiar with defining agri-food system health through vitality and stability, but most generally understand risk through the lens of single, discrete crises. Awareness of the impacts and effects of issues such as geopolitical tensions, human-induced climate change, and pandemics tends to be considered in isolation. However, we have entered an era of converging crises with combinations of three or more crises becoming common. These crises can result from a multitude of sources, including physical, geopolitical, cultural, human and animal health, and economic policies. The convergence of multiple crises – sometimes compounding, sometimes interrelated, and sometimes both – can result in synergistic impacts in which the total disruptive power is greater than the sum of the parts. All stakeholders in the agri-food eco-system – producers, governments, suppliers and marketers, financial services, academics – would benefit from information on how to recognize, analyze, and respond to this new era. 

The objective of this report is to present an approach to enhance overall agri-food and supply chain resilience, an approach that adopts the principles of structured decision making (SDM). To develop this approach, pork and greenhouse vegetables were chosen as commodities to be representative of agri-food commodities in Canada which would serve to reveal issues, concerns, and opportunities generally experienced in other agri-food commodities. 

Representatives were consulted from other commodities including beef, row crops, landscape and horticultural sectors. 

The report presents the first phase of the development of a crisis management toolbox (CMT) for the Canadian agri-food sector. The toolbox is an innovative integration of six tools that build upon one another sequentially, and in the aggregate, deliver a powerful decision support process/product. The purpose of the various tools that comprise the CMT is to enhance agri-food industry resilience while providing a platform for increased supply chain efficiencies. This report presents the first phase in the development and application of an SDM process. The CMT provides a solid foundation for developing options and recommendations. Building upon participatory consultations and case studies, these tools aid in the identification and visualization of system-level disruptive forces, their dynamic relationships, their scales of operation, and quantitative impacts on the system. The tools in our CMT are: 

(1) participatory consultations; 

(2) case studies; 

(3) vulnerability mapping (VM); 

(4) force-disruptor-vulnerability mapping (FDVM); 

(5) risk topography visualization (RTV); and 

(6) foresight analysis.

All these tools operate within a structured decision making framework. These tools aid in the identification and visualization of system-level disruptive forces, their dynamic relationships, their scales of operation and quantitative impacts on the system allowing for effective adaptation opportunities and optimization of resource allocation critical to successful long-term planning and policy making. 

Most importantly, the CMT provides farmers and other stakeholders with the roadmap to build informed, forward-looking, and insightful short-, medium-, and long-term plans for their operations, including farm succession and transition plans, which are critical for the stability and resilience of the Canadian agri-food ecosystem. 

By using the tools presented here along with the SDM principles, agri-food system stakeholders can bring their concerns or insights into developing new policies as well as reviewing and revising existing policies using qualitative and quantitative data collected across the specific commodity’s supply chain. Likewise, public sector policy makers and private sector decision makers will have deeper insights to better inform appropriate response strategies and actions to current and emerging risks, roles, and responsibilities.

This will enable better performance monitoring of response actions. The approach presented in this report helps to create informed resilience strategies. 

Download the full report here.


Thomas R. Armstrong, PhD is President of Madison River Group (MRG); a strategic, action-oriented consulting firm specializing in climate change and Earth systems outcomes. Tom served within the White House during the Obama Administration as the Executive Director of the United States Global Change Research Program, an author of the President’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Head of Delegation to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, and the Chair of Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON). 

John Fisk, PhD, founder and President of Bluestem Food Systems Consulting has over 25 years of experience in sustainable agrifood systems development. As former Executive Director, Wallace Center at Winrock International, he re-established the Center as an innovative and national force in regional food value chain development driving economic and social impact across the supply chain. 

Dr. Karen Hand Founder and President of Precision Strategic Solutions and AgID, is a biostatistician who has worked extensively with primary ag – including data modeling, implementing technology systems for disease surveillance and innovative technology to enable farmer driven, trustworthy data sharing and data enablement. 

Sanjay Khanna is Chief Futurist of SK Futures Inc. a strategic foresight consultancy dedicated to enhancing the resiliency of individuals, organizations, and communities during our “era of converging crises.” Sanjay is a scenario planning expert, completing the Oxford Scenarios Programme at the University of Oxford in 2018 and training with legendary Royal Dutch Shell scenario planners in 2002. 

William McClounie is the co-founder and President of AgriFood Capital Corp. with a focus on the design of risk management tools/services, strategic investment solutions and governance. Attaining senior management roles over 35 years has developed competency in corporate oversight, grain marketing, logistics, risk transfer solutions and business investment strategies. 

Bruce Stephen is the Principal of AgriB(Canada), a consulting firm with interests in agricultural risk management. Bruce retired from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in 2019 after a 26-year career in agricultural business risk management programs. His career led to developing, launching and delivering two programs which funded the exploration of financial risk management issues and solutions for Canadian farmers.

CGLR’s business and sustainability network programming is supported by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin