Dr. Steven Webb
CEO Global Institute for Food Security
A key player in Canada’s food policy space, GIFS advocates for a regulatory environment that encourages – rather than stifles – innovation.
Food security is essential to achieving a secure, stable, and peaceful world. Lack of access to good, nutritious food contributes not only to illness and disease among the population but can also trigger major political instability and conflict. “In effect, food insecurity is global insecurity,” says Dr. Steven Webb, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan, an industry-government and academic partnership, that focuses on policies that promote sustainable solutions to global food production challenges.
To improve exports on global stage, domestic policy changes needed
A rapidly expanding population and limited resources such as land, water, and nutrients — coupled with other issues like natural disasters and political conflicts – make it more challenging than ever to ensure an ample, secure, and sustainable food supply.
Fortunately, this is an area where Canada, as one of just a handful of nations that are net exporters of food, has a major competitive advantage. Not only does our agriculture and food sector offer solutions to many of these daunting challenges, but it does so in a way that’s economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. “We have the food, fuel, and fertilizer the world needs, and our agriculture and food sector is poised to feed a growing world,” says Dr. Webb. However, to fully benefit from the opportunities before us and improve our exports on the global stage, Dr. Webb believes that the agriculture sector needs to be supported with domestic policies that truly allow the industry to flourish.
Four pillars to effective domestic policy framework
To meet these challenges, GIFS is advocating for a policy and regulatory framework that supports – rather than stifles – agricultural innovation and recommends focusing on four domestic policies. The first relates to innovation itself. “We can’t continue to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow with yesterday’s tools and technologies,” says Dr. Webb. “We need innovation to help deliver the greatest positive impact through our agri-food and other sectors,” he says.
Innovation is a team sport, and we can no longer focus on revamping one part of the system without consideration for other areas involved.
At present, Canada’s innovation input doesn’t produce the return on investment (ROI) one might expect. According to 2022 Global Innovation Index Rankings, Canada places ninth globally for innovation inputs, but 23rd in terms of outcomes achieved. “We need to remedy this by creating a coherent, integrated national innovation strategy,” says Dr. Webb. “Innovation is a team sport, and we can no longer focus on revamping one part of the system without consideration for other areas involved,” says Dr. Webb.
The second recommendation is to drive major capital investments in infrastructure. “We can’t recommend a policy to improve Canadian exports without addressing the infrastructure to support these, such as rural wireless connectivity, our ports, and our rail systems” says Dr. Webb. “Investment in our infrastructure ensures Canada remains competitive and regains its reputation as a reliable supplier,” he says.
The third recommendation is regulatory modernization through the creation of a transparent, science-based, and enabling regulatory framework. “Our agriculture and food sectors are impacted by regulatory complexity and bottlenecks, which limit producer and consumer access to the latest proven innovations,” says Dr. Webb. “A highly functional regulatory framework is a competitive advantage for Canada, as it builds trust both at home and globally. We know this can be done and we should lay the building blocks now by modernizing our regulatory system to embrace a science-based approach that supports our innovation, rather than waiting for a crisis to make it happen,” says Dr. Webb.
The fourth and final recommendation relates to sustainability. “Canada is one of the world’s most sustainable producers of food, and [we] should be proud of the strides we’ve made and of how far we’ve come,” says Webb. In Saskatchewan, changes in agronomic practices such as no till and variable rate fertilizer application have transformed Saskatchewan’s crop production sector from being a greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter to being a net carbon sink. “When we consider policy changes, such as recent discussions to reduce fertilizer emissions by 30 per cent through decreased usage, we should instead take a science-based approach and consider what policies like this suggest to the world and the negative impact they have on Canadian agriculture,” says Dr. Webb. “Not doing so paints an inaccurate picture of how sustainable Canadian agriculture is and leads to public mistrust in our resilient and sustainable agriculture system, which in turn negatively impacts our export opportunities,” says Dr. Webb.
Collaboration needed between industry, government, and academia
To make these policy recommendations work effectively, Canada needs to bring all parties to the table to address national challenges and improve Canadian exports globally. GIFS has been working to do this since it was first established in 2012 as a partnership between the fertilizer producer Nutrien, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the University Saskatchewan. “GIFS’ model as an industry-government-academic partnership lets us capture the wisdom of the room and embrace the best of all three important stakeholders needed to advance innovation to market,” Dr. Webb.
Learn more about how GIFS advocates for innovation to enable sustainability in the agriculture and agri-good sectors.