Written by Paul Watson, Alberta EFP Director
There are likely two questions that come to mind after reading the title. First, what is sustainable sourcing? And second, how can this be a good thing?
The Alberta Environmental Farm Plan defines sustainable sourcing as a “means of buying goods from suppliers who adhere to a code of practice that reduces the social, economic, and environmental impacts of food production, processing and distribution”.
Sustainable sourcing has been becoming a reality for many years now. About 10 years ago, I was involved in a project that aimed to get producers a premium for demonstrating “Good Agricultural Practices”. It was based on the knowledge that Alberta’s producers are good environmental stewards, and we wanted them to get paid for that. Fast forward to March 2015 when I attended an SAI Platform Meeting in Toronto, with a diverse group in attendance: livestock and crop industry groups, provincial EFP reps, academics, food industry, producer groups, and likely more. At the meeting, representatives from crop industry associations spoke about how they had come to the conclusion that sustainable sourcing was here to stay.
What does that mean for producers? Perhaps less than you might think. Peter Ywema, General Manager of the SAI Platform, said that in Canada, we are the reverse of other countries. We have the legislative frameworks that cover the social and ethical aspects (e.g. child labour), regulatory and environmental (eg. production practices). But we don’t have the paper trail. While many other countries have that trail they struggle to meet the low expectations of the Farmer Self-Assessment version 2.0. For example, question FSA 13 asks: “When selecting and using varieties do you make an informed choice”? I’ve never met a producer who doesn’t make informed choices on varieties. So, in some areas, the bar is not exceedingly high.
Why is it good news that sustainable sourcing is coming to Canada? As a society, we have the social, ethical, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability in place. Demonstrating good stewardship will soon be a requirement in all sectors and offers Alberta (and Canada) a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. I believe sustainable sourcing will mean two things to producers.
One, we need to document what we do and this has been echoed by producers. Here at Alberta EFP, we are trying to make this easier; we are updating our WebBook, and planning to make it easier for producers to fill in and update information. For example, we are developing our online version so you can enter your legal land location and the WebBook will access maps, soils data, and maybe more. We know that this is the “hard part” quite often and we aim to make it easier.
Two, there may be a verification step or even an audit process for some industries. Will everyone be “verified” or audited? Some sectors may require it, but the sheer number of farms (≈ 43,000 in Alberta) makes that unlikely. For the environmental component, AEFP has trained technicians who have said they can, and will audit/verify if it’s required.
Alberta’s agricultural community has long been a leader in adopting more sustainable practices. We can easily demonstrate to the food industry and consumers that Alberta producers are excellent stewards of the land. By doing that, we can become the preferred source for agricultural products, all while maintaining healthy profits. It’s time for us to get ready for sustainable sourcing and make it one of the best things that’s happened to Alberta’s agricultural industry.