Kitchener-Waterloo

Solving hunger will take social policies and investing in technology, says expert

Evan Fraser says food insecurity and problems in the supply chain are growing challenges in society, and it will take a lot of different answers to come up with a solution. 

Evan Fraser says technology and education are important, but solving hunger requires policy changes

Food banks are a short-term solution to food insecurity. Social policy must tackle the root causes to end hunger and poverty, a University of Guelph professor says. (Submitted by the Food Bank of Waterloo Region)

Evan Fraser says food insecurity and problems in the supply chain are growing challenges in society, and it will take a lot of different answers to come up with a solution. 

But he says solving hunger starts with new policies that tackle the root problems — rather than short-term solutions. 

"We need a societal fix to that, which is social policies including housing and poverty reduction strategies," said Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph. 

Feed Ontario's annual hunger report found food bank usage in Ontario rose 10 per cent during the first year of the pandemic.

Nearly 600,000 people made more than 3.6 million visits to food banks in Ontario between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

Interim Feed Ontario executive director Siu Mee Cheng said food bank users struggle with the cost of living, and that there needs to be better social assistance programs. 

Fraser agrees. 

"It's social policies related to housing, related to income, related to tax credits, related to child care. Things like that would really have the biggest bang for the buck in terms of bringing people out of food insecurity," he said.

Supply chains

Fraser said the of effect of climate change on the supply chain, which has been on display in British Columbia, as catastrophic weather has left some communities without shipments of food, needs to be addressed.

"That is creating a food security problem. No question at all, the supply chains are broken, they are struggling to get food in," he said.

Evan Fraser says using technology to improve farming will be key to ending hunger. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Fraser said that there were concerns about interruptions of food shipments at the start of the pandemic as borders closed around the world. 

"We were worried that the supply chains were going to result in disruptions and then ultimately increase the price of food, because if supply chains don't move super smoothly then food is going to get more expensive," said Fraser. 

Vertical farms

Aside from policy changes, Fraser said technology will be a key tool in reducing food insecurity. He said farms that use LED lights and hydroponics could make a difference. 

He says facilities, known as vertical farms, are on the rise, and he expects a lot of fruit and vegetables will come from those in future.

A look inside We the Roots vertical farm in Toronto, which can grow up to 20,000 plants at a time. ( Yan Jun Li/CBC)

"Two years ago I wouldn't have said this, but right now, the stuff I'm reading suggests that they will be pretty close to carbon neutral, very very water efficient, and use virtually no pesticides and herbicides," said Fraser.

He said it would also be important to produce more fruit and vegetables in Canada, so the country becomes less dependent on importing food. 

"Between land-use policy, through the financing and loans, through to education and training, there's a bunch of different ways we could incentivize the growth of vertical farming as an industry — and then through social policy we can address the food insecurity issue."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Drost is a reporter with the CBC.

With files from The Morning Edition - KW

now