Sunday, September 09, 2012

Canada: Food security

One day, when I was a young child living with my paternal grandparents, my grandmother came back from the Chinatown street-market anxiously telling everyone in the family that we had to start stocking up on rice, oil and other essential food items.

It was the 1970's. The Americans had just lost the Vietnam war. Rumours were that Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) and China will back Communism's spread by moving the war southward from Vietnam, to Thailand, to Malaysia, and then Singapore, and even Indonesia. My grandmother lived through World War II as a married woman with children to feed. She knew what life was like to be without food security.
My mother mocked her mother-in-law (my paternal grandmother) for being an alarmist and that there would not be "enough" no matter how much we stock because our food supply would be raided if war should arrive on Singapore's shore. To which my grandmother looked at me with love and concern in her eyes and replied (in Cantonese), "Then we must buy gold!* Would you like a gold* necklace?" She asked me. I just looked at her, [I was] lost and frightened -- even at that age, I trusted my paternal grandmother, more than my own mother, to keep me safe. My mother flatly turned down any offer of gold from her mother-in-law. [*Note: Gold being the default currency in chaotic times.]

It is often joked that Canada has 2 seasons, "winter and construction" -- construction being done in the few summer months. It is nevertheless a myth that Canada is a wintry country that does not grow enough food to feed its population. Here are some statistics from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

According to the statistics above, in 2011, Canada exported CDN$40.3 billion and imported CDN$31.1 billion worth of Agri-Food, making it a net exporter of CDN$9.2 billion. Looking at the top 5 import and export items, the major Canadian agri-food exports -- e.g. wheat, canola oil, soybean, pork -- are basic essentials (if a worldwide food crunch should occur); whereas the major Canadian agri-food imports** are arguably optional food items with respect to basic survival -- e.g. wine, food preparations (i.e. pre-packed food), bread, pastry, cakes, biscuits, and coffee. For more information about agri-food import/export for various countries worldwide, check out FAOSTAT (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
**Note: With the exception being raw cane sugar import. IMHO, sugar is one of the essentials, but Canada produces alternative forms of sugars, e.g. honey and maple syrup. According to Statistics Canada, Canada had 7,671 beekeepers and 627,713 colonies of bees that produced 35,451 metre tonnes of honey in year 2011. In addition, Canada produced 38,877 kilo-litres of maple syrup in year 2011.
If one is not convinced, a trip across the plains of Richmond, the Delta region, and eastwards (especially the province of Sasketchwan) should put one's mind at ease. In fact, within B.C., the Okanagan Valley is famed for a wild variety of agricultural produces -- cherries, apricots, peaches, prunes, pears, apples, grapes, tomatoes and onions. According to B.C. Berry Grower Magazine, B.C. is a major producer of blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries besides tree fruits and grapes. [Note: Except that Canada consumes more strawberries than it produces, and thus importing from California, Florida, Poland and Mexico. For more about British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture's agri-foods strategy, click here. See also City of Vancouver's urban agriculture guidelinesCity of Vancouver's community gardensCity of Richmond's Garden City land, and YWCA Metro Vancouver Rooftop Food Garden project.]

Wheat field harvest in Richmond, B.C.

More farmland in B.C. enroute to Alberta

Okanagan farmland, B.C.

More Okanagan farmland, B.C.


I think back to the time when I was a kindergarten kid in Chinatown, Singapore, facing the possibility of impending doom of wartime survival; all I can say is, IMHO, food security is not something that Canadians have to worry much about.


  1. Those land in Delta and Richmond form part of BC's Agricultural Land Reserve ( which is protected from urbanisation.

    Some municipalities encourage their constituents to grow their own food. Vancouver allows hobby beekeeping and the keeping of backyard hens, for example.

    1. Hi wanderingsmurf,

      Thanks for visiting and sharing about B.C. I appreciate your updates and additional information. :)

      Cheers, WD.