13, 2002: Given a chance, a multi-benefit approach
to agriculture can grow on farmers.
It certainly did during the Christian Farmers Federation's
workshop series last winter. As each workshop progressed,
there was increased support for the idea that farming needs
to work for food production, for taking care of creation,
for community development, and for family life.
The initial reaction to multi-benefit agriculture was positive
and cautious. Participants saw merit, but were not swept up
by the vision. They were interested, but made no assumptions
that it was going to unhook farming from difficult trade-offs
- from values giving way to "economic necessities."
The draft CFFO vision document identified 18 trends in Ontario
agriculture. A high percentage of the workshop participants
- 75 percent or more -- agreed strongly or agreed somewhat
that each trend contributes to the weakening of agriculture
in Ontario. There was a strong consensus that a better future
for Ontario agriculture will need a multi-pronged approach.
In small breakout groups workshop participants documented
and articulated both weaknesses and strengths of multi-benefit
agriculture. Weaknesses included: fear of change, the TINA
syndrome (There Is No Alternative), risk to farm family income,
lack of clout in the marketplace, and consumer resistance.
Strengths included: a marketplace that is alive with change,
a growing commitment to environmental stewardship, a renewed
willingness to take responsibility, new examples of successful
cooperation, and a quality of life worth defending.
Participants welcomed the idea of environmental payments
as part of the vision. They agreed that publicly-funded payments
were justified for the wider environmental services their
farm activities provide. They did not see environmental payments
as an alternative to production subsidies. They welcomed them
as an addition to existing production support.
Near the end of each workshop, participants were willing
to move beyond talking about a new vision to the process of
planning action. In small groups they recorded over 300 ideas
in response to the question: "What needs to be done to
implement, move forward or gear up for our emerging vision?"
Some asked for a better definition of the vision, questioned
funding and raised concerns. At least 65 percent were ready
to think action, with ideas about engaging farmers, taking
responsibility and promoting implementation.
Many of the workshop participants were willing to be part
of developing an alternative future for Ontario agriculture
- one that challenges the status quo. While they believe that
multi-benefit agriculture is consistent with their values,
they have reservations about its immediate practicality. As
the workshop progressed their support for the vision grew.
On balance, they concluded that the vision of a multi-benefit
agriculture is worthy of guiding CFFO's labours for years
Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of
Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by
4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.
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