Good, healthy food is a human necessity. Yet agriculture in the North falls short of its people’s needs in producing and providing ways to bring locally grown fruits, vegetables and even meat to the tables of Northerners.
Food and nutrition security are a challenge in the North. If the territory is to achieve sustainable food security, we need to shift focus to what we eat and modify how we view agriculture and how we produce food.
With climate change and warmer temperatures, Northern regions should be poised to take advantage of more temperate climates and extended growing seasons. That means building a solid agricultural foundation prior to those changes.
Increasing research, opening an agriculture department in the new polytechnic university and sharing best practices with our Northern neighbours are some of the ways the territorial government can begin cultivating agriculture in the North.
In places such as Norway there is already a fount of knowledge on farm and plant-breeding practices and technologies that can be adapted to our own environment.
There are many foods that could be incorporated into greenhouse and land-based growing in the North; berries, vegetable and dairy products are some that could be considered. Sheep, goats and certain breeds of cattle are well acclimated to colder temperatures and could show larger scale potential in the territory.
The GNWT should be looking at creating an agri-food sector that researches and implements production models that work in the North, and more, to develop new markets in the territory.
The territory already produces some novel products for the global community. There’s Arctic char and caribou as well as a variety of other wild game on offer. It would be a small jump to look at taking advantage of food grown and raised in the NWT to develop a new market and business model.
Todd Russell, president of the NunatuKavut Community Council in Labrador, said in an interview with the Memorial University Gazette, “Inuit have an unbroken and deep connection to the land, sea and ice in NunatuKavut and understand the fundamental importance of food systems to sustaining our way of life.”
The same is true for the Inuit, First Nations and Metis in the Northwest Territories, there is much to learn from sharing that knowledge.
The GNWT needs to start focusing on ways to leverage economic, social and natural capital more strategically, and sub-Arctic and Arctic agriculture is one way of attracting more opportunities to the North. If countries such as Norway and other Arctic communities can boost land-based food production, the NWT can do the same by using the distinct information already learned by these countries in how to grow in our unique polar landscape.
Policymakers in the North have traditionally focused on oceans, sub-sea resources and geopolitical issues, but there is a need now more than ever to diversify and dedicate policy to achieving the potential of a Northern agri-food sector.
It’s time to change the political agenda to a more realistic, more people-centric ideal in terrestrial food production in the Northwest Territories.