AGRICOM (Ontario) – The Collège Boréal Biodiversity Research Center is researching possible strategies to mitigate the consequences of a break in the food chain during a possible pandemic. Led by the director of the center, Dr Jean-Pierre Kapongo, and his team, this research will examine the best production and marketing practices that will allow producers to better connect with consumers.
Marc Dumont – Agricom
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there was concern over a break in the food chain in various sectors. Everyone remembers the reflex of consumers to stock up on food and other items (such as the famous toilet paper!). How else could it be in the event of a calamity that puts the world on hold? Collège Boréal is therefore proposing to find options with a new research project.
“This time around, no government could respond positively to the possibility of an interruption in the food chain. If another pandemic happens, government, producers and consumers will be able to use our research. There will be suggestions on ways to deal with the problem, ”says Dr Kapongo.
The research will analyze the production conditions. “It’s difficult to plan when we don’t know if we will have foreign workers to harvest,” announced Mitch Deschâtelets of Leasure Farms at the start of the crisis. So certain questions arise. Will it be necessary to mechanize more? Do e-commerce tools make it easy and efficient to market products? Should a method be developed for consumers who wish to have access to the various producers in their region without resorting to an intermediary? Doctor Kapongo wants to find answers to these questions.
Researchers also want to collect data on the impact of COVID-19 on the amount of food produced. They will try to answer questions such as: Have there been any shortages of seeds or inputs in order to produce properly? And was the quality there; acceptable to consumers?
“All these questions and others will have to propose solutions taking into account the restrictions imposed by a pandemic such as the closure of public markets, the wearing of compulsory masks, social distancing, the ban on crowds. […] », Continues Doctor Kapongo.
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“Solve the problem immediately”
Interviews with producers in northern Ontario were scheduled to begin in mid-July. Data analysis will follow and recommendations will be released next year. “The research will not be about how to fix the problem right now. We want governments, producers and consumers to use our research at the next opportunity, in five or ten years, ”adds Dr. Kapongo.
Among the tools targeted for the research report will be an update to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) interactive map. It will be enhanced so that producers and consumers have a direct link. For example, the map will contain the complete list of all producers closest to a consumer for a particular product.
Dr Kapongo is very motivated by the idea of supporting local producers in the North: “They are not numerous and we are there for them. We want to work in collaboration with these producers. There are no more reasons to buy strawberries from Quebec or New Brunswick. We are ready to do the necessary research. With Collège Boréal, it is no longer necessary to run in Guelph. In addition, Collège Boréal offers virtual or face-to-face training, access to a laboratory and greenhouses for current and potential producers. “
This research is also being done in partnership with Thunder Bay’s Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN), Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance (NOFIA), ReThink Green Sudbury, Greater Sudbury Food Policy Council and the University of Guelph. Funding is provided by the Canada Research Center. For more information visit: https://www.collegeboreal.ca/projets-en-cours