In 2011, there were just over 100,000 hectares of land farmed in Southwestern B.C., producing 1.1 million tonnes of food. Yet the ability to feed the 2.7 million people who live in this region is rather shocking.
According to groundbreaking research published in the Southwest B.C. Bioregion Food System Design Project, we have only 40 per cent food self-reliance — and that’s using imported feed for livestock. Without imported feed, that self-reliance drops to just 12 per cent.
The project, conducted by Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS), is the culmination of a four-year study that looked at the food self-reliance, environmental stewardship and economic potential of the local food system in Southwest B.C.
Using information from the 2011 census, researchers have created a model to show how the local food system operates today, and to make projections as far ahead as 2050.
It is one of the first projects of its kind in Canada, and the City and Township of Langley are two of nine municipalities that have provided funding.
In Southwest B.C. — which consists of Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lillooet, the Sunshine Coast, Powell River Regional Districts and the traditional territories of the Coast Salish Peoples — residents spend an estimated $8.6 billion on food annually, but a majority of that is spent on imported food or in non-local food businesses.
According to a summary of the project, in 2011, 1.1 million tonnes of food were produced, of which 79 per cent was sold locally. But to satisfy our food need, a further 1.8 million tonnes of food — valued at $1.6 billion — was imported.
“This represents a significant loss of potential economic activity in Southwest B.C., which, if captured, could substantially enhance the local economy,” the summary says.
One of the goals of the project is to collect data for community leaders, planners and policy makers to help them make informed decisions today, so that the future can be more sustainable and offer greater food self-reliance.
The population of the region is anticipated to grow to 4.3 million by 2050, and if food continues to be produced and consumed in the same manner as it is today, the area’s ability to feed itself is estimated to drop from 40 per cent to 28 per cent.
“Our food system should provide the kinds of wholesome, nutritious foods we need and want. It should also buffer us from the uncertainties of global economics and climate change, better position us to address critical environmental issues, and contribute substantially to our local economy,” the summary says.
“… The bottom line is that, in addition to global issues, we are facing a number of pressing local challenges: an increasing population, threatened farmland, environmental degradation, and B.C.’s economic vitality and the strength of its agricultural sector.
“Our project investigated the potential of a more sustainable, bioregional food system to address these local challenges. It demonstrated that such a food system could play an important part of a comprehensive vision for a sustainable future for Southwest B.C.”
What impact does this study have on Langley? The Township will soon find out.
On March 6, council approved spending $25,000 to have a sustainable food system study completed for the Township. They will also have Dr. Kent Mullinix, Director of ISFS, speak to council about the findings of the project.
Coun. Kim Richter called it a “fascinating study,” and believes it can play a key role in guiding Langley’s agricultural future.
“We could take this model and actually apply it to Langley Township and figure out in Langley Township how much food we are producing that is consumed within the Township, how much we are shipping out, in the year 2050 how much will we need to produce, (and) what kinds of crops will we have to produce,” she said.
To read the full Southwest B.C. Bioregion Food System Design Project report, visit http://www.kpu.ca/isfs/swbcproject.