Agricultural Area Plan available for public comment

NANAIMO – Regional district's Agricultural Area Plan available for public comment.

Agriculture was an important economic contributor to the region’s economy for the last 200 years, but farmers are facing challenges seriously affecting food production.

Pressure to develop property in the Agricultural Land Reserve, labour shortages, rising transportation costs, climate change and more are issues area food producers are tackling to continue growing and producing.

Concerns about food sustainability and security were brought to the attention of the Regional District of Nanaimo and in 2010, the RDN board directed staff to go after funding to help develop and Agricultural Area Plan.

In 2011 the planning and consultation process began and now the draft is available to the public to comment through an online survey – www.growingourfuture.ca – until June 11.

“It was definitely grassroots driven – it was community driven,” said Lainya Rowett, RDN senior planner, about the decision to create the plan. “We are confident the majority of the issues have been identified, in terms of the issues and barriers and constraints to agriculture.”

The RDN and members of the agricultural advisory committee, consisting of representatives from farming groups and other interested stakeholder organizations, provided input toward creating the draft plan. Information was also gathered through public consultation.

Joanne McLeoad, a member of the committee and the Nanaimo-Cedar Farmer’s Institute, said she was impressed with the amount of consultation and is pleased with the report.

“We had tons of public input,” she said. “Protection of the ALR is very important and if the land continues to be excluded for development, we will lose our farmland and it’s very important to protect our farmland.”

The plan outlines seven main goals: protecting and enhancing the agricultural land base, strengthening the local agriculture and aquaculture economy, improving training, skills and labour opportunities, improving opportunities for on-farm water resource management, addressing environmental sustainability, wildlife and climate challenges, promoting agriculture and aquaculture through education and celebration and supporting agriculture and aquaculture in land use regulations and policies. These goals are broken down into smaller actions and given priority levels.

Jamie Wallace, a spokesman for the Friends of Urban Agriculture Lantzville, said RDN put considerable energy into the plan, with goals and actions that are consistently supportive of ALR lands and activities in the region.

“There is a great deal of focus on improving our current food system and security,” he said. “The words in the report are very hopeful, but whether actions will proceed from them remains to be seen.”

The group also wants the RDN recognize the role urban agriculture plays outside the ALR.

“Studies indicate that already close to 20 per cent of the world’s food comes from urban or peri-urban agriculture, not from the mainstream systems,” said Wallace. “FUAL has some concerns that a growing cultural conflict over use of land is approaching and agriculture is going to be at the centre of this.”

Wallace said indicated the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food identified agro-ecology as considered a better system than the current industrial model, but the concept isn’t reflected in the RDN report.

The draft plan identifies that action would require considerable manpower and financial resources that go beyond the RDN’s capabilities.

A suggested solution to share responsibility is to create an Agricultural Area Plan Implementation Steering Committee, consisting of representatives from regional organizations. If formed, the steering committee would work on the recommendations and determine how to engage volunteers and others to carry out priorities.

Rowett said there’s no timeline for the agricultural plan’s adoption.

For a copy of the plan or to complete the survey, please go to www.growingourfuture.ca.

reporter3@nanaimobulletin.com