Few parts of Canada’s agri-food sector can be considered diverse. Food processing is the exception; it employs many new Canadians and represents a huge part of the economy. But there is still a lot of room for diversity elsewhere.
New agri-food business is a prime example. Canada’s population is changing and has a growing interest in non-traditional food preferences. This is a challenge for the food sector, but it’s also a significant opportunity for those poised to capitalize on it. The needs of tomorrow’s population will initially be met by niche-minded entrepreneurs, rather than by major food manufacturers who now dominate the landscape.
The agri-food sector knows this, and has pressured the federal government to consider the positive impact of having all Canadians’ food needs met by homegrown agri-food sources – typically, small businesses that create jobs and, at present, help the economy recover from the pandemic.
Ottawa is getting the message. On Tuesday, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau announced five agri-food organizations in Canada would receive almost $735,000 to increase the participation of under-represented groups.
Diversity and inclusion are integral to creating an economy that works for everyone, says the minister, adding that the assistance is designed to help more people from diverse backgrounds enter the industry and pursue careers as agricultural entrepreneurs.
“Companies and organizations are most successful when they bring together skilled and talented people from different genders, generations, and cultures,” she said. “The agriculture sector has everything to gain from growing its diversity at a time when career and business opportunities are multiplying, from the farm to the laboratory, and through new technologies.”
The five recipients of the funding are the Fédération des Agricultrices du Québec, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Indigenous Works, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Do More Agriculture Foundation, which focuses on farmers’ mental health awareness.
Bibeau noted that the organizations will help raise awareness in the sector of the barriers to starting and growing an agriculture or agri-food business.
As examples of the work to be done, she cited a national project to address systemic barriers facing women trying to succeed in agriculture. As well, she described local initiatives to empower Indigenous peoples to create business opportunities through traditional food and medicine, and a national research effort to address gaps in mental health support for under-represented groups working in agriculture.
According to Bibeau, for the agri-food sector to reach its potential, everyone must have the opportunity to fully contribute. It’s essential that Canadians in every region of the country see themselves reflected in the agriculture sector, she says.
Megz Reynolds, executive director of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, acknowledged the funding.
“While the needle has started to move in regards to talking about and supporting mental health in agriculture, we haven’t specifically looked into what support exists for minority groups within the industry,” she said. Her organization will use the federal funding to conduct research that identifies existing gaps in support and create collaborative next steps for how the industry can move forward.
Rarely does a government funding announcement contains so much substance and so little non-political rhetoric. Good for the minister, and for the agri-food sector.