Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and committee members. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear on this important topic.
The world faces an incredible challenge: How do we produce enough food sustainably, affordably and profitably to reduce food insecurity around the world? According to the FAO, rates of undernourishment were actually falling up until 2014, and until 2019 they actually stayed pretty constant. Unfortunately, the number of food-insecure people began to climb after that. The World Food Programme now says that almost 830 million people go to bed hungry every night, with 210 million more people facing acute food insecurity in 2021 than did in 2019.
Canada, too, is seeing an increase in food insecurity. The most recent report by the University of Toronto shows that food insecurity rose from one in eight Canadians to one in six in 2021.
The World Food Programme cites four causes for the global hunger crisis we are facing: conflict, climate shocks, the consequences of COVID-19, and costs.
Today I'll talk about all four of these unique but very connected causes and about how Canada can offer solutions to each.
I'll spend less time on the first, but it is important to acknowledge that Canada should do more in Ukraine and around the world to mitigate conflict and its impact on food security. The world can produce endless amounts of food, but without safety and security, that food will not get to where it is needed. Conflict drives food insecurity, but food insecurity also drives conflict. There can be a devastating vicious cycle between the two.
COVID-19 impacted the global food system, but in Canada and around the world, the food system proved to be pretty resilient. You might not have been able to buy a new vehicle, but you could pretty well always find food on store shelves. Some of the consequences of COVID-19 are also finally beginning to ease. For example, while it's not back to prepandemic levels, the cost of ocean freight has fallen to 30% of what it was at its peak in September 2021.
The final two causes are very closely connected.
Canadian farmers understand the impact of climate shocks. A drought on the Prairies and a disastrous flood in B.C. are two recent examples. These shocks are happening around the world. This year we have been concerned about heat waves in India; droughts in China, Europe and the U.S. Midwest; and floods in Pakistan.
Climate shocks in China and India could be particularly devastating. These two countries alone make up more than 30% of world wheat production, but almost all of it is consumed domestically. While China has stocks that are a buffer for climate shocks, India and most other countries do not. A climate shock disrupting production in India, where a 30% loss would be equivalent to Canada's entire wheat production in a good year, would have a devastating impact on global food insecurity.
Cost is the fourth and final driver cited by the World Food Programme. Much has been made of the impact of the Russian invasion, but prices were climbing before Putin invaded. Shortages, supply disruptions, increasing input costs and market volatility started driving world food prices higher in 2020.
The solutions to climate shocks and costs are similar. They require a more productive, more resilient food production system that wastes less; more reliable and efficient infrastructure; and an effective global trading system.
I want to take a minute to focus on productivity, because it allows us to address food insecurity by producing more with less. This year, the OECD said that to meet the zero-hunger sustainable development goal and for agriculture to make its contributions to mitigating climate change, the sector must deliver productivity growth of 28% over the next decade. That is three times greater than that of the previous decade.
In Canada, we're heading in the wrong direction. Between 1990 and 2000, average annual agricultural productivity growth was 2.4% a year, but in the last decade, it has fallen to 1.8% per year. We need to turn this trend around. Boosting Canadian agricultural productivity will be good for farmers, good for the global food system, good for the environment and good for fighting food insecurity.
Food insecurity is a global challenge. Canada can be a leader with local solutions, but effective solutions require a whole-of-government approach.
Global Affairs should be using the upcoming Indo-Pacific strategy to make agriculture and food core to our strategy in the region and around the world. It should also make agriculture and food a core component of our overseas development assistance approach.
Regulators, including ECCC, Health Canada and CFIA, need to enable and facilitate access to the tools needed to boost productivity, including gene editing, and they need to focus on harmonizing our approaches with those of our major trading partners. Agriculture Canada and other funders need to increase and better target investments in R and D and in adding value to deliver that much-needed growth. The entire Canadian government should take steps to work in a more coherent manner to help Canada become an agriculture and food leader at home and around the world.
A final thing that we need to do is to have a more explicit conversation about the trade-offs and unintended consequences of trying to use the food system to meet several objectives, including food security and environmental and economic goals. We are not heading in the right direction to be able to do it all, and we need a more fulsome dialogue on what that means.