The COVID-19 pandemic has strained many aspects of everyday life, including the affordability and accessibility of food. Going forward, the future presents an opportunity for food resiliency — a concept that has been proven over the last three years, says Cassie Hayward (BA’19), food security advocate and Cambridge University PhD candidate.
“At the beginning [of the pandemic], it was the first time many people could really feel the effects of food scarcity,” she says. “Typically, in Canada, we don’t have those issues — if you need something, you go to the store, and everything is there. But this time, the shelves were empty.”
Resiliency is needed in the supply chain, she says. “It ensures our supply chains can bounce back when exposed to stresses and shocks, to ultimately ensure we have food-secure individuals.”
Hayward experienced food insecurity as a child growing up in Dartmouth, N.S., and after joining the 4-H program in Grade 10, became interested in finding solutions. During her undergrad at King’s and Dal, she presented at the global Youth Agricultural Summit and won 10,000 euros (the equivalent of $13,454.70 in Canadian dollars), which she used to successfully pilot a food security project in Kenya. She was later invited to speak about her work at the United Nations Committee on Global Food Security and has addressed the world body multiple times since.
Hayward will be one of three panelists to speak at Dalhousie’s next Open Dialogue Live event on Nov. 17: “How Policy Impacts Food Security.” Through varying perspectives, the event will address how Dalhousie is accessing Atlantic Canada’s strengths in food production and distribution.
It will also explore the important question, how is policy impacting the future of food security?
Food policy allows for planning and outcomes
“It’s all about intended and unintended consequences,” shares Dr. Chris Hartt, an associate professor in the Department of Business and Social Sciences at Dal’s Agricultural Campus, who will moderate the discussion.
According to the Government of Canada, food policy is developed to guide food-related systems and actions. It is an approach to understanding and addressing the linkages within food systems and a plan for making decisions about food.
“Policy can limit — or encourage — access to goods through direct controls,” says Dr. Hartt. “Implementing policy will always result in specific outcomes, specific consequences.”
A chain reaction
Dr. Phoebe Stephens, an associate professor with the Faculty of Agriculture, says food scarcity is more a question of distribution and access than one of production. Globally, millions of people struggle to feed themselves and their families every day. “High food prices are exacerbating the situation,” she says. “There are many policies that can be introduced to curb [high and rising food prices], but so far, governments have taken a more voluntary or hands-off approach.”
“It’s systematic; everything is linked,” agrees Dr. Gumataw Abebe, also an assistant professor in the Faculty of Agriculture. “One component could impact another. This concept is not new, but it needs more recognition to make positive change.”
“We are living in a very globalized environment,” he says, one in which people worldwide are realizing the importance of supporting local. “To bring that synergy, we need a more sustainable approach.”
Getting worse before it gets better
As Hayward shares, if food prices continue to rise, Canadians are more likely to look for cost-cutting measures. “And for that reason, food insecurity could get worse before it gets better.”
“The future of policy also requires an understanding that the food system is (more or less) based on incentive,” adds Dr. Abebe. “It’s so powerful. And we need to align those incentives with societal expectations – those that would be more accessible to more people.”
Resiliency in the system
According to Dr. Stephens, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how more local, decentralized systems can be nimbler in responding to shocks that come from a pandemic, rather than the industrial food system, which, she adds, “is quite vulnerable given its level of concentration and length of supply chains.”
“A supply chain can be interrupted,” says Hayward, “but with the right consumer behaviour, and the right policies in place, it can bounce back quickly.”
Open Dialogue Live: “How Policy Impacts Food Security”, will be presented by the Faculty of Agriculture and will be offered in-person on Nov. 17 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. AST in Room 153 at the Cox Institute at Dal’s Agricultural Campus in Truro and simultaneously streamed online through YouTube and Facebook Live.
Register to attend in-person or online at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/open-dialogue-live-how-policy-impacts-food-security-tickets-441596365617
Panelists will include:
• Cassie Hayward, King’s alum, policy analyst with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Cambridge University PhD candidate
• Dr. Phoebe Stephens, assistant professor in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security at Dal’s Agricultural Campus
• Dr. Gumataw Abebe, assistant professor in the Department of Business and Social Sciences at Dal’s Agricultural Campus
There is no cost to attend and both in-person and online audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions during and after the event.
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