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The Canadian federal election, global inequality and the food crisis.

October 6, 2008

Thanks to Professor Parkins‘ class at the U of A, we’ve got a fabulous discussion going in the comment thread of Mara Kardas Nelson’s post on the election and the global food crisis. As a summary, here are some significant areas of agreement on the response candidates should give to questions about the global food crisis:

Candidates should display a sophisticated understanding of the distinction between agriculture in developed countries versus the Global South. Canadians in general, and candidates in particular, need to avoid seeing agriculture through an ethnocentric lens. According to Saad:

Having to trade with the world, set up large industries, create surpluses, and amass wealth should not be seen as right ways of contentment just because they are practiced in the West.

At the same time as we take the above into consideration, we shouldn’t allow distinctions between agriculture “here” and “there” to lead us to conclude that farmers in the Global South have fewer rights than do Canadian farmers. From Mara:

The way that we view developing world versus developed world farmers can simply perpetuate the idea that the global “North” is comprised of highly complex societies that focus on market systems, while the global “South” is stuck in an archaic system.

Candidates’ proposals should take into account the culturally distinct roles of agriculture in the North and South, while also allowing those in the South increased access to the same stability and benefits (defined in their own terms) that we have in the North.

Candidates should also have a vision for addressing the crisis in the Global South while meeting the challenges we face domestically. One important question, from mweller, is:

How do you plan to reduce global inequality in regards to agriculture while providing for the needs of Canadians?

We’re still seeing some disagreement in the thread about the best way to do this. Some commenters focus more on the need to reduce discriminatory trade barriers, while others feel that removing trade barriers is either unrealistic or too potentially damaging to Canadians farmers. Others are suggesting that we focus more on aid and training for the Global South. From erinv:

I feel that education in [developing] nations is far more important than just handing them money and I’m curious to see how much Canada would be willing to invest, not only in monetary support programs, but also in educational support for these developing nations.

The appropriate balance of trade reform and aid/training programs is something we’d like to explore further. We’re also not totally sure about the appropriate role of GMOs – some commenters feel they may be the best way of confronting the challenges of climate change; others feel the threat to biodiversity is too great. Recent developments suggest that we need to proceed with caution when implementing technological solutions to climate change in a complex system.

Though we’re unsure about how to balance domestic and international concerns, I’d like to focus on the fact that we all seem to basically agree about the need for some balance. We’re not exclusively inward-looking and parochial – our concern for Canada’s role in the world was the reason Canada’s World was started, so I’m glad to see it reflected in the discussion here.

Leaders need compelling visions for confronting challenges in a way that is globally aware, culturally sensitive, includes a variety of different mechanisms (trade/aid etc.) and considers the potential role of technology (GMOs). We’re asking a lot from our leaders, but they’re asking a lot from us – our votes, our trust, the ability to determine how government revenue is spent and the authority to represent us abroad.

Another great question in the thread, from drparon, focuses on next steps:

…there is every opportunity for us to voice our opinions and take actions where we see fit, whether it be running for office or helping out with a campaign. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This is a great discussion and I’m wondering ‘what’s next?’ Where do these comments go? Do they make a difference?

Obviously this depends on you. After our Food for Talk event in Vancouver, we put together a resource guide on the global food situation, including a list of local organizations working on food security issues. If those of you in Edmonton at the U of A would like to recommend some organizations here in the comments section, we can make it more likely that the energy of this discussion translates into some action.

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