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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Drought in BC and California

Many parts of the West Coast are reeling from effects of the drought, here in BC, in regions of Washington State and in California. This post looks at the impact on our local Food Security in terms of availability and accessibility as part of a series on Food Security outlined here.

Drought in California

The state of California is facing severe weather conditions since four years and over 70% or more of the region continues to suffer extreme drought as recorded by the US drought monitor. A study by the University of California reportedly estimates drought related farm losses of $1.5 billion this year. So farmers there are adapting and crop-switching moving away from bulk commodity crops to high value products like almonds and olives that make more money for the water used.

Currently BC depends largely on these fresh food imports from USA, especially California owing to geographical proximity and transport infrastructure. A report commissioned by Vancity highlights the steadily increasing trend of importing fruits and vegetables that can be grown here over the last two decades so that now 60% to 80% of strawberries, lettuce and other vegetables like broccoli, carrots and cauliflower are imported. The report predicts several price rises that we will have to bear locally as weather conditions in that state force farmers to switch from growing these vegetables to niche products.

Image Credit: Leanne Zmud

These developments are compelling local food producers and all stakeholders in BC to adapt as is the drought here. We explored the water conservation measures and policy response to the drought particularly for households in BC in this recent post. There is also an adverse impact on farming, fishing and power generation.

Drought in BC 

One response in BC to climate change and export demands has been a focus on large scale farming of high value crops such as blueberries, cherries, grapevines. So currently the province grows roughly only half of the food needed by the 4.6 million people living here. However as reported in the media, some initiatives are being put in place to redevelop local food systems and regionalise agricultural production here in BC since we do have the resources and land to become self sufficient in the face of growing uncertainties regarding food imports.

Fishing closures are the response to low water levels that impede salmon travelling to inland spawning grounds increasing susceptibility to disease, sluggishness and death. About 97% of water licensed in British Columbia is for power production and idle dams due to the drought are a cause for concern. Part of the remaining 3% of water is used for farming across much of the 4.7 million hectares of land reserved for agriculture. The current conditions are mandating most efficient use of this water. The government promotes agricultural water management through its various programs. 

Growing food locally

To plan for the likely food price rises, shortages and food insecurity, many decision makers and supporting agencies are looking to increase and diversify sustainable local food production as the solution. Organizations like the Food Systems Network and Food Secure Canada provide platforms to encourage dialogue and provide support for local food systems development. 

Burnaby Food First has also listed several resources for traditional and budding farmers to learn more through collaboration. All members of the community who would like to get involved have the opportunity to access our workshops and resources for sustainable gardening. We offer 'container gardening' workshops as well as canning, food drying and preserving workshops to support better food security through all seasons of the year. Readers are requested to sign up for event notifications regarding upcoming workshops and events. 

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