Boosting Indigenous agriculture production would benefit Canada

There has been some increase in Indigenous farmers

Ottawa—Getting more Indigenous Canadians involved in primary agriculture production would increase food security and strengthen the national economy, says Farm Credit Canada.

Increasing participation of Indigenous people in farming and bridging the gap in income between their and other farm operations would create a $1.5 billion boost in primary agriculture GDP, FCC said.

Renewed efforts to reduce barriers in access to capital, equipment and skilled labour as well as improved agricultural knowledge and farming methods “are paths towards boosting Indigenous agriculture production, promoting Indigenous health, increasing food security, and strengthening Canada’s economic well-being and resiliency.”

According to the 2021 census, more than 1.8 million people identified as Indigenous, representing 5 per cent of Canada’s total population. Relative to the agriculture sector, there were 5,405 Indigenous farm operators or 2.1 per cent of the 262,045 farm operators in Canada.

“Although this represents a 5 per cent increase in participation from the previous census, there is still a large possibility to expand participation,” FCC said. “Indigenous farm operators live in all provinces and territories, with the four western provinces accounting for over 70 per cent of Indigenous farm operators. “Indigenous farming operations are more predominant in oilseeds and grains, vegetables, fruits, and other crops including greenhouse production followed by beef cattle ranching and farming.”

Bringing equitable representation of the Indigenous population into agriculture would imply increasing the number of Indigenous farm operators to a similar level as their contribution to the total Canadian population, adding an additional 7,631 Indigenous farm operators to the ag economy, a 140 per cent increase.

“Ongoing generational effects from the Indian Act, residential school experiences, the 60’s scoop, and other factors contribute to significant and enduring economic differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadian populations,” FCC said.

“Lack of access to capital, lower rates of participation of Indigenous people in the labour force, access and level of education attained, and higher unemployment are all major contributing factors that continue to hinder Indigenous economic progress overall, and in the ag economy.”

Statistics Canada data indicates the median farm operating revenue for Indigenous farm operators in 2020 was $25,960, compared to non-Indigenous operators who earned $73,440. “This is a revenue disparity of $47,480, or nearly 65 per cent. The revenue disparity declined slightly between 2015 and 2020, being at $49,900 (adjusted for inflation) in 2015. Revenue inequality has therefore improved slightly over the last five years.”

Closing the revenue gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous farm operations can be converted to a contribution to the economy measured in terms of GDP. GDP related to Indigenous primary farming operations was estimated to be $351 million or 1 per cent of Canada’s primary agriculture GDP in 2021. Conversely, the GDP contribution of non-Indigenous farm operations was $35.9 billion. This estimated primary agriculture GDP per farm operator was $64,900 for Indigenous and $140,100 for non-indigenous, for a GDP per farm disparity of $75,200.

An equitable representation of Indigenous agriculture implies an increase in the number of operators as well as in revenues generated per farm, FCC said.

Working towards achieving economic parity for Indigenous people in Canada presents an opportunity to lift the economic resilience of Indigenous populations as well as promoting food security. Increasing Indigenous participation in agriculture is a $1.5 billion opportunity which would more than quadruple Indigenous agriculture GDP and provide an estimated 4.0 per cent boost in Canada’s primary agriculture GDP.

Existing government programs are laudable and could be complemented with an innovation plan and collaboration between all stakeholders to address the barriers to increasing Indigenous participation in primary agriculture and agri-food business.

This news report was prepared for National Newswatch.

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