More than thirty of the world’s largest companies positioned squarely in the global food chain call the binational Great Lakes economic region home. And, with agriculture one of the primary land uses in the region, growing and producing food has always been a vital component of the Great Lakes’s economy. Ontario and Quebec, for example, account for roughly 58%, or $12.8 billion of Canada’s $22 billion in agriculture and agri-food trade to the U.S, while the eight Great Lakes states account for roughly 34%, or $8.4 billion, of U.S. agriculture and agri-food trade to Canada.
However, the need for a more sustainable food system has never been more apparent. The World Food Programme 2020 edition of “The Global Report on Food Crises” describes the scale of acute hunger in the world—as many as 265 million people suffering from food insecurity, including starvation, all of which is made even worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, as school closures and social distancing orders impact food-insecure individuals more profoundly, including over 37 million (including over 11 million children) in the U.S. in 2018 almost one in seven Canadians.
This is stark evidence of the need to examine and overhaul our global food supply system, from field to fork, and the role the binational Great Lakes economic regionegion can play in reimagining food systems and feeding the hungry, as well as pushing the boundaries of smart farming practices and technology, food science and innovation, and sustainability.
The region is already in an enviable position to drive a new food revolution. The Great Lakes represent 84% of North America’s surface freshwater supply. The region’s economy is fueled by affordable energy sources. The region’s lands are arable, and the lakes are productive. The region has access to talent, modern infrastructure, world-class R&D, and easy access to global markets. Leading manufacturers like General Mills are leading the way in regenerative agriculture, with General Mills pledging to partner with organic and conventional farmers, suppliers and trusted farm advisors to drive the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices on 1,000,000 acres by 2030. Leading retailers like Kroger are committing to end hunger in their communities and eliminate waste across the company by 2025 through their Zero Hunger/Zero Waste plans. And the companies one-step back in the Supply Chain, like John Deere, are also setting aggressive goals for feeding a growing population, empowering prosperity, and protecting natural resources, and holding themselves accountable through regular reporting.
However, the binational Great Lakes economic region lacks a high level, public-private sector food system dialogue and a comprehensive food system strategy to chart a way forward – one that restores ecosystems, ensures prosperity for all producers, processors and distributors, limits impacts on climate change, and provides affordable, accessible, delicious food for hungry people.
This post is the first in what is intended as an ongoing dialogue, providing a platform for government, industry, academia, and the nonprofit sector to connect and collaborate on a range of agriculture and agri-food challenges and opportunities, ideally leading to:
- New ways of harnessing the region’s strengths and assets in farming, food R&D, food manufacturing and processing, and proximity to global markets to scale Great Lakes food systems into a regional supercluster.
- Insight for action to reduce waste while at the same time ensure adequate, affordable, nutritional food which is readily accessible and diminishes food insecurity.
- The political and cross-border economic, regulatory, and sustainability conditions necessary to permit the long-term success and growth of food systems in the binational Great Lakes.
We aim to convene leaders and experts to share knowledge and diverse perspectives, stimulate debate, and create a context for new ideas and solutions to emerge. We are also looking to highlight existing or ongoing research system issues that matter most to the Great Lakes agriculture and agri-food sector, all in order to advise governments and industry on how best to connect and leverage the Great Lakes resources to develop a truly sustainable food system to feed the region—and the world. Do you have a point of view, insightful research, or a compelling story to add to the dialogue? Please contact Laura Asiala at Laura@CouncilGreatLakesRegion.org to join the conversation.
Photo Credit: William Felker @Unsplash