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EAP Publication - 109

Policies, programs and regulations to support the transition to sustainable agriculture in Canada

EAP Discussion Paper #109

Rod J. MacRae, Stuart B. Hill, John Henning and Alison J. Bentley


The development of political strategies in Canada to support the transition from conventional to sustainable agriculture has been limited by the absence of a comprehensive conceptual framework for identifying the most critical policies, programs and regulations. In this paper, we propose a framework that is characterized, in particular, by the use of an efficiency / substitution / redesign spectrum to categorize both sustainable farming systems, and government activities. The framework is then used to identify a diverse range of short, medium and long-term strategies to be pursued by governments in Canada to support the transition. Strategies discussed include research, diffusion and training; market development; and safety net programs and tax provisions. Finally, the implications and implementation of the redesign concept for food production, processing and distribution are outlined.


The Canadian food and agriculture system is in transition to a more sustainable approach to food production and distribution. Indications that the transition is already underway include the increasing number of farmers experimenting with new techniques or actually converting their farms, the growing volume of products of sustainable approaches available in the marketplace (particularly organic food), and heightened public awareness of environmental problems associated with agricultural production.

The institutions involved in supporting the food and agriculture system (e.g., universities, credit agencies, government, extension services) have already made significant contributions to sustainability in our agriculture system. Financial assistance, IPM programs, varietal developments, and research on biorational products and soil conservation systems have all contributed to progress in achieving a sustainable agriculture. However, it is widely recognized that much more needs to be done. A number of surveys of farmers have identified the inadequate institutional responses as primary obstacles to more widespread adoption of sustainable practices (Wernick and Lockeretz, 1977; Blobaum, 1983; Hill, 1984; Kramer, 1984; Robinson, 1985, 1986; Baker and Smith, 1987). Recognizing this, Agriculture Canada has been reviewing how its programs, policies and regulations impact on the development of sustainable agriculture (Agriculture Canada, 1989).

Although many proposals for policy change exist, a framework is lacking to assess which ones offer the greatest potential to assist the transition, what time frame is feasible, and which institutional players need to be involved in the implementation process. In this paper such a framework is proposed, and used to identify key short, medium and long-term policy, program and regulatory initiatives that can be undertaken by government to assist the transition.

Sustainable agriculture defined

Sustainable agriculture is both a philosophy and a system of farming. It is rooted in a set of values that reflects an awareness of both ecological and social realities, and a commitment to respond appropriately to that awareness. It emphasizes design and management procedures that work with natural processes to conserve all resources and minimize waste and environmental damage, while maintaining or improving farm profitability. Working with natural soil processes is of particular importance. Sustainable agriculture systems are designed to take maximum advantage of existing soil nutrient and water cycles, energy flows, beneficial soil organisms, and natural pest controls. By capitalizing on existing cycles and flows, environmental damage can be avoided or minimized. Such systems also aim to produce food that is nutritious, and uncontaminated with products that might harm human and livestock health. We have elaborated on this definition elsewhere (MacRae et al., 1989b).

Analytical Framework

a. Efficiency - substitution - redesign

In previous analyses, we have shown how the evolutionary process of farm-scale transition to sustainable practices involves three overlapping stages: efficiency, substitution and redesign. Of the three, redesign, the most important, has received the least attention (Hill, 1985; MacRae et al., 1989b). In the efficiency stage, conventional systems are altered to reduce consumption of scarce resources, and to reduce environmental impact, e.g., by banding fertilizers, monitoring pests, optimal siting and timing of operations. In the substition phase, non-renewable and environmentally impacting products are replaced by those that are generally more environmentally benign, e.g., synthetic nitrogen fertilizers by natural organic sources, non-specific pesticides by biological controls, herbicides by appropriate systems of cultivation. Because neither of these strategies confront the causes of the problems, they condemn producers to repeated reliance on externally derived curative solutions and inputs. In contrast, the redesign stage is achieved when the causes of problems are recognized, and solved internally by site and time-specific design and management approaches. The farm is made more ecologically and economically diverse and more resource self-reliant and self-regulating.

The literature on transition is somewhat confusing because each of the many schools of thought that fall under the broad umbrella of sustainability emphasizes different aspects of the process. To help clarify this, we have categorized these schools according to an efficiency - substitution - redesign framework (Figure 1). Each approach has deficiencies and strengths. We believe that true sustainability will be achieved by adopting an evolutionary approach that builds on the positive elements of each school of thought. Undoubtedly, future designers, with access to an expanded scientific knowledge base, greater practical experience, and increased levels of institutional support, will look back on present efforts as relatively primitive.

We have used the same efficiency - substitution - redesign framework to examine the opportunities for improving governmental supports for the transition (Table 1). Our perception of the Canadian political process has been particularly influenced by the work of Jackson and Atkinson (1980), Forbes (1985), Beaubien (1986), Pross (1986), Skogstad (1987), Jackson (1988), and Plumptre (1988).

Efficiency-stage strategies involve minor changes to existing programs and regulations that help to create a more positive environment for sustainable agriculture, or that remove an obstacle to participation by producers following sustainable practices. These changes are likely to be implemented by working level staff and middle management within bureaucracies because such changes generally occur in the context of currently acceptable methods of policy and program implementation. Because of this efficiency strategies are less likely than other types to threaten decision-makers. Generally, costs are not prohibitive, no new legislation is required, no complicated technical analyses are necessary, and greater interdepartmental cooperation is not a prerequisite.

Substitution strategies focus on the replacement of one measure by another, or on the addition of a parallel measure with a similar structure but different intent. More levels of government are usually involved and discussions about program design and implementation are likely to take longer. Explicit approval by senior managers will usually be required.

The redesign concept is rooted in a desire to mimic ecological processes. Such processes are defined by a series of ecological "laws" or principles (Commoner, 1970). Many agricultural activities and most institutional problem solving strategies contravene or fail to support these principles (Table 2). Redesign requires the longest time to implement and the greatest changes to human and physical resource use. The unique benefit of redesign, which makes it the ultimate objective of both farm-scale and institutional transition strategy, is the identification of permanent solutions to problems. Institutional redesign is unlikely, however, to be achieved until government policies and processes have progressed through the efficiency and substitution stages. To ensure that the potential to redesign is not compromised, efficiency and substitution strategies must be assessed in light of their ability to support the redesign process (Table 3).

Our previous reviews of the literature on the process of transition to sustainable systems (MacRae et al., 1988, 1989b) have identified nine key factors to take into account when modifying or designing policies, programs and regulations.

1. The transition process is an evolutionary one and government initiatives must reflect the need to provide an on-going supportive environment. Supports are needed for all transitional phases and must not block evolution from one stage to the next.

2. Much of the diffusion of information literature incorrectly assumes that economic factors are the primary motivation of farmers interested in the transition (Heffernan, 1982; Hilts et al., 1989). Supports for the diffusion process must take into account other motivational factors, such as environmental protection, health, and social justice.

3. Up to now, farmers in transition have obtained most of their information from popular literature and from other farmers. The diffusion process should emphasize activities that bring farmers together, e.g., short courses, field days, and the creation of on-farm research associations.

4. During the transition period, farmers come to focus more on systems than on specific crops. The commodity orientation of many existing government programs is consequently a barrier to this shift.

5. Changing the rotation often involves including crops for which the producer has no marketing experience, and for which extra supports are required.

6. Planning the transition is critical, and technical assistance at an early stage can help to avoid many difficulties.

7. Much of the success of the transition depends on access to locale-specific, not universally applicable, information. This has implications for the design of successful research programs, and for the training of farmers and extension agents.

8. The transition period involves financial risks and is consequently a period during which lenders are likely to deny access to credit. Farmers with no financial flexibility cannot realistically attempt to convert without substantial financial assistance.

9. Insufficient research is being undertaken on the transition process. Research by interdisciplinary teams is called for. These teams must involve experienced farmers as they are the source of much of the present wisdom.

b. Government as catalyst

Agriculture Canada has signalled its desire to take a leadership role in the process of transition to sustainable agriculture. In our view, this can best be achieved if the department emphasizes a catalytic role, facilitating the collaboration of other agencies, both private and public, in the achievement of its goals. To succeed it will be necessary to remove certain barriers and provide some incentives. This will require a greater awareness of the needs and attitudes of all of the groups involved, not just those with a strong lobbying presence. The department will need to become a more active participant in the various communication networks, more expert at meeting specific information needs, and at using modest sums of money to improve the effectiveness of an ally's actions. This type of leadership is visionary, anticipatory and aims to prevent (vs. cure) problems. Catalytic approaches are especially important when financial and material resources are limited.

c. Agroecology

Our analysis also makes extensive use of the principles of agroecology (cf. Cox and Atkins, 1979; Altieri, 1987), the application of an ecological paradigm to agricultural systems (Lowrance et al., 1984). Ecology is concerned with the relationships between organisms (including humans) within ecosystems and with the associated flows of energy and materials. Agroecosystems differ from natural ecosystems in that they are partly powered by auxiliary energy sources (fossil fuels, animal and human power); human management has reduced species diversity; and the dominant plant and animal species are artificially selected and controlled by humans rather than through natural feedback mechanisms (Odum, 1984).

Agroecologists study these characteristics both ecologically and socioculturally (Hill, 1980; Norgaard, 1983). Within the agroecological paradigm, the sociocultural elements are regarded as important because human relationships with agricultural systems are prime determinants of the form any given system takes. Concern for the whole, and for the study of relationships as they exist within their natural environment, are features that distinguish ecology and agroecology from most other scientific disciplines (Busch, 1984). Scientists, given a choice, strive for completeness of understanding, and the ecological paradigm is one of the few in common use that provides a reasonable opportunity to achieve this goal (Bahm, 1979; Jackson, 1984).

The agroecological analysis gives rise to a number of other considerations in the Canadian situation: a) local communities must have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, particularly those most affected by environmental and economic problems associated with agriculture; b) citizens must have greater access to the information resources of the government in order that they effectively participate in the process of decision-making and implementation of more sustainable agricultural systems; c) all groups must recognize the rights of future generations to share in and enjoy the natural resources on which agriculture rests, and to have access to high quality nourishment; d) biological and cultural diversity are essential to sustaining a healthy environment, economy and community; e) governments must recognize the limitations of science when dealing with environmental and ecological questions, and must exercise caution when faced with scientific uncertainties by erring on the side of ecological realities (Greenprint for Canada Committee, 1989).

Note that because our focus is on the development of sustainable systems of agriculture as a means to addressing environmental, economic and health issues, we emphasize strategies that promote sustainable agriculture in systemic, as opposed to elemental, ways. A number of jurisdictions have introduced targeted strategies to reduce agricultural pollution, protect sensitive natural areas, sustain landscape amenities and keep marginal lands out of production (cf. Duesenberg and Girling, 1984; OECD, 1988). We see these as, in many instances, valuable strategies that can complement the kinds of initiatives presented here. On there own, however, they are unlikely to achieve significant advances toward sustainability.

d. Other conceptual tools

We have found three other conceptual tools to be useful for developing and refining strategies to support the transition process.

1. Identify both the driving and restraining forces and identify ways to strengthen and introduce the former and weaken and eliminate the latter (Figure 2). Because of their sensitivity to criticism, public policy makers are more likely to favour new initiatives over those that eliminate restraining forces (Hammond et al., 1983; Lok, 1984). It is generally difficult to direct old money to new uses and easier to find new money or squeeze old programs to make old money look new (Plumptre, 1988). However, they should not appear to be so new that they are perceived to require a substantial break with tradition (Bonnen, 1988).

2. Identify supports (education, extension, research), rewards (tax incentives, subsidies, low interest loans) and penalties (regulations, fines, taxes). Government is often reluctant to develop new penalties because the human and financial resources required for enforcement are often lacking, and because the existence of penalties does not remove the motivation for acting in an unacceptable manner (Costanza, 1987). Penalties, however, are often more easy to target than other strategies (OECD, 1988). Incentive programs (rewards) are often also unpopular because they are hard to administer (Veeman, 1987), although over the long run they are often of lower cost than regulatory programs (OECD, 1988). The utility of environmental regulations to control agricultural activities may be limited by insufficient scientific support (Benbrook, 1989). Provision of supports is generally the most popular strategy unless large amounts of money are required.

3. Identify the level at which change is being sought. In sustainable agriculture, the most important operational units are the field, farm, watershed or bioregion, and nation. Action is often required at municipal, provincial, national and multinational levels, and cooperation amongst these levels is essential because ecological operational units transcend political boundaries (Lok, 1984; Lowrance et al., 1986).

Strategies to support the transition

a. Efficiency-stage strategies: removing primary restraining forces

Given the importance of diversity in sustainable farming systems, it is troubling that a number of federal and provincial government programs and policies have been implicated as impediments to the diversification of farming systems (Table 4). Some of these impediments are agronomic and others involve marketing. The OECD (1988) believes that removing constraints to diversification should be a primary strategy for solving agricultural problems, especially those that will improve environmental quality.

These impediments remain in place, in part, because it is usually difficult to identify the precise effects of programs and policies. Decision makers have tended to postpone action (Pidgeon, 1984; Manning, 1988) until technical analyses point the way, or until the effects of inaction make procrastination unacceptable. This phenomenon is particularly evident when no politically viable direction is apparent. The federal government's Western Grain Transportation Act (WGTA) and the Feed Freight Assistance Program are good examples of policies that have many positive and negative impacts on diversification, making the final impact balance difficult to determine using traditional evaluative tools (Pidgeon, 1984; Senate of Canada, 1984; Gilson, 1987). This deficiency constitutes a major barrier to progress in this area.

Other barriers may be easier to weaken or remove. For example, crop insurance programs could be changed in a number of ways to encourage diversification. The Conservation Council of Ontario (1986) has recommended that the concept of "good management" be broadened. In many instances, a farmer who does not use pesticides and fertilizers is regarded as a poor manager and is denied coverage. Conservation practices may not be acknowledged. Pidgeon (1984) has recommended that prairie crop insurance benefits be increased for specialty crops that conserve soil. Staff at the Canada-Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Program have effectively tried to establish such a scheme for organic producers. They have proposed higher payments to organic producers to reflect the higher market value of their crops (Tom Scott, Can-Sask Crop Insurance, personal communication, 1989).

Modifications to the Federal Fertilizer Act to allow for the easier registration of organic fertilizers provide a further example of barriers that would be reasonably easy to remove. Presently, the regulations require that a precise minimum formulation be consistently present. For biological materials and natural rock powders, such guaranteed analyses are difficult to achieve consistently, and the importance of other aspects of these materials is ignored. Although the Act is well administered, it is designed more to prevent fraud than to support specific agronomic practices. The absence of alternative products in the marketplace can make transition to sustainable practices more difficult. Modifying the terms of reference for the Act does not negate the need for more research on the usefulness of alternative fertilizers.

The impact on diversification of inappropriate government programs is cumulative. Because these programs focus on the production of specific crops, more attention is paid to the commodity lobby, and correspondingly, the pressure for specific commodity interventions increases at the expense of policy options with a systems (non-commodity specific) orientation (Economic Council of Canada, 1988). This phenomenon is probably related to Coffin's (1988) observation that commodity groups have increased in political strength at the expense of general farm organizations.

Specific programs, regulations and operating practices that make it more difficult to become or remain an organic farmer have been identified in Table 5. These either encourage production practices that are incompatible with organic agriculture or limit the ability of farmers to market their products as organically produced. Many of these barriers, which can be attributed to institutional ignorance, could be overcome if these institutions hired professionals who understood organic farming practices, or if they retrained current staff.

Few organic food marketing channels have been established. Now that Consumer and Corporate Affairs has completed its consultative process with the organic foods industry to develop a new definition for organic food, many marketing agencies should be in a better position to establish organic food channels within existing marketing mechanisms. Such a situation exists in at least four European countries where governments have recognized certified organic food, and have established appropriate market mechanisms within existing services (Peter and Ghesquière, 1988; Young and Schwenk, 1989). Marketing boards may have to make new investments to establish such channels. For example, in some communities the Ontario Wheat Producers Marketing Board has only one bin for collecting grain, so organically-grown grain is mixed in with all other grains (Robert Mouck, organic grain grower, personal communication, April, 1988). The Canadian Wheat Board, in contrast, has been assisting the marketing of organic grains (Cowley, 1989).

A recent decision by the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency to permit an organic grower to market organic eggs without quota may be the beginning of this necessary re-evaluation by the marketing boards. The board was persuaded that organic eggs were a specialty item that would not compete with their regular product. This suggests that as production of organic eggs increases, the board will have to develop a more comprehensive response. An organic dairy is now operating in Quebec. Regulations around milk production and marketing appear to have been the principal reason for delaying the establishment of the dairy, but with one established, the door should now be open for more entrants.

b. Substitution strategies

b.1. Research, diffusion and training

b.1.1. Changing the scientific reward and peer review process

The prevailing system of evaluating scientists is a major obstacle to the development of sustainable agriculture. We have discussed why this is so in great detail elsewhere (MacRae et al., 1989a). In Agriculture Canada, scientists have identified reward systems as encouraging academic rather than mission-oriented research (Wanczycki, 1984), even though the department claims to have a specific non-academic mission to support sustainability (Agriculture Canada, 1987, 1989). It should be possible to redesign the reward system to be consistent with the stated mission. To support most sustainable agriculture research, reward systems should generally favour: long over short-term projects; multi-authored over single-authored papers; farmer/extension/scientist/economist teams over teams of scientists; projects with an on-farm research focus over a laboratory focus; project compliance with the departmental over disciplinary mission; popular (widely read) publications at least at par with scientific or economic (narrow audience) papers.

The main exception to such reward system criteria is research on basic ecological processes that will help with agroecosystem design. Our understanding of most pest interactions, many basic soil processes, and symbiotic plant, and plant - microbe interactions is still rudimentary (cf. Lowrance et al., 1984; Altieri, 1987). Scientists working on these projects may be adequately covered under existing reward systems, although Agriculture Canada may still have to specify the priority areas.

Parallel to this, is the need for agroecology training programs for scientists, economists and other professionals who work in all branches of the department of agriculture. The mechanisms to deliver this already exist.

There is also a great demand in the Canadian farming community for training in sustainable agriculture. There are three main barriers to meeting this demand: a) lack of a sufficient number of qualified trainers (some private associations have proposed that standards for training trainers be developed, with government assistance for running the programs); b) insufficient technical and financial assistance for developing transition training materials, such as manuals and videos; c) lack of farmer subsidies to cover tuition, travel and time to permit their participation in on-going courses. A number of jurisdictions in Europe offer such support. For example, the state of Saarland, West Germany, provides small loans to converting farmers in the form of a replacement salary while the farmer is away on training, and tuition fees (Peter and Ghesquière, 1988). An OMAF training program concerned with farm management and conservation permits farmer expenses for courses offered by the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario to be covered.

b.1.2. Changes to research funding programs

Three main barriers exist for the funding of sustainable agriculture research: a) the shift in Agriculture Canada funding priorities means that for many programs industrial partners must be found, a difficult task for projects in sustainable agriculture that address ecosystem design and management; b) the funding timeframe (renewable for a maximum of three years) is insufficient to permit long-term sustainable agriculture research; and c) the peer review process discourages acceptance of sustainable agriculture projects (MacRae et al., 1989a).

In contrast, the Low-input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) program in the USA has been partly successful in generating useful projects because: a) selections were made by regional committees that understood regional needs; b) selection committees included knowledgeable farmers and extension personnel in addition to scientists, and farmers were involved in the design and implementation of the research program; c) specific acknowledgement by Congress that this kind of research is important made scientists feel more secure about participating in sustainable agriculture research (Patrick Madden, Manager, LISA program, personal communication, 1989; Morgan, 1989b).

In Canada, more initiatives in the areas of b) and c) are especially required. The quality of research programs in sustainable agriculture would also be raised by introducing a two-stage funding mechanism whereby the first 6 to 12 months would be used for program development, including an extensive review of the relevant literature and the establishment of a working relationship with involved farmers and extension agents.

b.1.3. Programs in on-farm research

Some of the most successful work in sustainable agriculture research is being carried out by farmers working closely with scientists and technical specialists (cf., Thompson and Thompson, 1985; Patriquin et al., 1986; Samson et al., 1989). In the past, however, insufficient technical and financial supports have been given to scientists in Agriculture Canada wishing to do on-farm research (Wanczycki, 1984). The on-farm research model is not, however, foreign to Agriculture Canada or to provincial departments of agriculture. Agriculture Canada's Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) has, for example, operated Salinity Cooperatives for a number of years. A recognized cooperative of farmers arrange with PFRA to hire a technician to assist in resolving salinity problems. In the province of Quebec, extension agents and technicians work with producers in Production Clubs, funded in part by the department of agriculture. At present, several are developing simple on-farm research experiments to find solutions to problems facing producers interested in converting to sustainable practices.

b.2. Marketing and quality control

The market for organic foods is dynamic, with emerging opportunities and challenges. It exists, however, in a state of disequilibrium and inefficiency (Hall et al., 1989), which can be reduced by policy interventions.

b.2.1 Support for certification

Private certification agencies have largely been successful in ensuring that those participating in their programs comply with their standards. Verification procedures include on-site inspections, paper audit trails, and independent third party review of applications. However, agencies have not had the resources to monitor non-participants.

A number of US states have responded to this concern either by taking on the certification themselves (Texas, Washington, New Hampshire, Colorado, Oklahoma) or by providing regulatory and financial support to non-governmental agencies (12 other states including Minnesota, Ohio, California). Typically, the regulatory support has involved legislating a definition and minimum production and processing standards. In Canada, British Columbia has just passed the "Food Choice and Disclosure Act", which will enable the development of such regulations. Québec has been discussing with certification agencies a possible framework for regulatory support. At the federal level, Consumer and Corporate Affairs has a definition of organic food that is presently only enforceable under the general provisions of existing legislation concerning misleading and deceptive representation of food (Consumer and Corporate Affairs, 1988). Until the consumer perception of organic food has become clearer, the department is unlikely to enforce the definition, even under these provisions (Charles Sheppard, Consumer and Corporate Affairs, personal communication, April, 1989).

International trade in organic foods is rapidly increasing (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, 1989), and has been accompanied by the development of regulations in the European Economic Community and in the USA that could impede the sale of Canadian organic produce in these jurisdictions. The OECD (1988) has called for international certification standards to avoid trade problems in organic food.

In order to reassure consumers, coordinate provincial developments, and ensure the availability of international markets, the federal government is being advised by a committee studying the matter to provide legislative support for certification of organic foods. The form of this support must be determined after full review of the developments in other jurisdictions, and with full participation by the organic foods industry.

b.2.2. Market research

Demand is strong for certain products of sustainable food systems in some regions of the country. A recent study, funded by Agriculture Canada, identified strong demand for organic fruits and vegetables in urban centres across the country (Baseline Market Research, 1988), and this demand has facilitated marketing of these products. Demand for other organic products has not been as strong, and producers have not had the resources to identify where it is, or what factors would contribute to its strengthening (consumer awareness, clearly identified products, etc.). The federal government has some expertise in market research and should substitute some of its resources to conduct research in this area. A comprehensive program of market research that focuses on the following areas would greatly improve the level of market information.

a) Priority products for research -- organic meats, eggs and feedgrains; and transitional products, including those grown under low-spray and reduced synthetic fertilizer conditions (more work on transitional standards would also be required).

b) Appropriate pricing -- some crops from sustainable agriculture operations sell at prices considerably above prices for conventional products. Research to identify the price that the various target markets are willing to pay for different fresh and processed products can facilitate development of new markets. Possible target markets include coops and pre-order groups; farmers' markets and pick-your-own; health food stores; day care centres; hospitals and other health care institutions; public schools, colleges and universities; produce stores; gourmet and specialty shops; restaurants; convenience stores; and supermarkets (Christianson, 1988). Some partial steps in this direction have been taken by at least two US states. New Hampshire publishes organic food prices in its marketing bulletin (Frisch, 1989), and California has provided financial support to the Organic Market News and Information Service (OMNIS), which publishes a weekly price bulletin (Franco, 1989).

c) Promotional strategies -- what kinds of presentation (food and packaging) are attractive? What kinds of labels or symbols are viable? What are the characteristics of sustainable food production that appeal to purchasers? What are the most relevant advertising tools? How are all these things achieved in a way that is consistent with the principles of sustainability?

d) Places to sell -- because local production and distribution systems are essential to sustainable agriculture, special attention needs to be paid to opportunities for local distribution. This is especially so for regions in which local demand appears to be weak (e.g., organic fruits and vegetables in the Prairies, meat in the Maritimes).

b.2.3. Encouraging private sector changes

A number of private sector practices create barriers to the marketing of alternative products and thereby make transition more difficult. Many of these problems are a result of the low volume of these products in comparison to conventional ones. In the food processing and slaughtering industries, for example, there are few firms willing to handle small volumes of organic products, and that are able to assure the separation of organic from conventional lines of processing. Other consequences of low volume include higher transport costs, and the need for more suppliers to any particular retail outlet.

These problems are somewhat self-perpetuating in that the lack of marketing arrangements stands in the way of growth of output. This being the case, government could provide rewards (tax relief and subsidies) to encourage the private sector to develop organic marketing channels. This type of support, however, should be viewed as a transitory measure intended to jump start the system.

b.2.4. Improving consumer information

Market inefficiencies are in part caused by insufficient consumer information (Hall et al., 1989). Public demands for information on food production and handling practices are increasing. The public is frustrated by a food industry that has for too long unduly influenced decision makers' perceptions of this issue (Hall, 1974; Warnock, 1978; Pim, 1986). The process of certifying organic food is one way of providing consumers with more information on the practices involved in producing, processing and distributing the food they eat. This process would take us beyond current government regulations with respect to disclosure about production practices (Thériault, 1988). For example, the Health Inspection and Grade Stamps of Agriculture Canada indicate that a product has been visually inspected for grade and "wholesomeness", but tells the customer nothing specific about the production process.

Some progress on increasing consumer access to information, using penalties, is being made in the USA, particularly in California as a result of the controversial Proposition 65, the "Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act". By spring 1988, similar proposals had been introduced in 20 other states. In Canada, such a process would have to be initiated either by a provincial or the federal government because the proposition system is weaker in Canada, existing only in some municipalities. Maine recently passed two bills to provide consumers with more information on contaminants in food. One requires country of origin labelling for imports from countries using pesticides banned in the USA, and it sets up an in-store education program for consumers on the implications. The second bill requires retail outlets to post a conspicuous sign informing consumers if suspect post-harvest treatments have been used on the food (Anon., 1989).

b.3. Safety net and production incentive programs

b.3.1. Sustainable agriculture crop insurance program

The efficiency-stage approach, discussed above, involves modifying the definition of good management and the benefits structure for those who are selling their products at higher prices. A substitution-stage strategy involves designing a distinct crop insurance program to support farmers through the transition. A pilot program of this nature has been developed by the Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture. The department underwrites 50% of any yield reduction associated with the transition, up to a maximum of $5000/cooperator/year. As it is a pilot project, this assistance has been restricted to coverage on 20 acres or 10% of the total farm acreage, whichever is less (Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture, 1988). The state of Saarland, West Germany offers up to $3000 Cdn in compensation payments for any lost income during the transition, the amount depending on family status and year of transition (Peter and Ghesquière, 1988).

b.3.2 Credit assistance

Governments in Canada have a tradition of supplying credit assistance to farmers and have used credit policy to shape agricultural structure and practice. This approach could be used to promote sustainable agriculture. The states of Texas, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska have developed a "Linked Deposit Program" to promote the diversification of agricultural production and processing in the state (DeMarco, 1989). In Texas, state treasury deposits are made available to eligible farmers through financial institutions at lower interest rates. Producers following sustainable agricultural practices are one of the targeted groups. Approximately $2 million US has been used so far in the program, a sum that has attracted over $3 million in additional private investment (Reynolds, 1988a,b). With financing comes technical assistance. Minnesota has developed a credit program specifically for organic farmers.

The province of Québec's "An Act Respecting Farm Finance" (Québec Official Publisher, 1987) contains a section (Section 3 -- Special Loans) that might be an appropriate vehicle to provide this kind of credit assistance. It provides for credit and a subsidy to producers who need to change their production system because of severe economic dislocations. Of particular interest is the provision to loan sufficient funds for conversion and living expenses (subject to a maximum) until production is suitably established. Modifications to this act could easily be made to include farmers converting to sustainable practices.

b.3.3. Production subsidies

In concert with credit policy, production subsidies have been used to encourage production of particular commodities. Some analysts propose that a similar approach be used to encourage sustainable agriculture with one major conceptual difference. Subsidies should be designed to support production systems rather than specific commodities, and to incorporate externalities, although subsidies have not been used in the past for such purposes (Daberkow and Reichelderfer, 1988). Others have recommended providing subsidies for specific kinds of capital equipment to facilitate the development of more ecological systems. For example, subsidies could be provided for waste-handling systems, to help with on-farm soil fertilization programs (Bateman and Lampkin, 1986), or for purchases of equipment by farmer organizations or cooperatives that loan equipment to transitional farmers. This cuts down on the costs to individual farmers of experimenting with different kinds of equipment (D. Lafrance, Centre de Développement d'Agrobiologie du Québec, personal communication, Sept. 1989).

In Europe, the Danish government provides development grants and transition subsidies to converting farmers of about $430 Cdn/ha as part of their effort to convert 10% of the country's agricultural land to organic farming within 10 years. Some believe this to be insufficient encouragement (Stopes & Woodward, 1988). Much controversy surrounds the use of transition subsidies. Some see them as penalizing those that have already converted. Others fear that the market place will be flooded with organic food, thereby eliminating the organic premium (British Organic Farmers & Organic Growers Association, 1988). In order to address the equity question, farmers who have already converted could receive the same level of support as those in transition (Midmore and Lampkin, 1988). Sweden has developed a program of this nature (Rundgren, 1989). Government experiences with subsidies to date identify a number of other problems of greater potential importance. The beneficiaries of subsidies have traditionally been the larger-scale operations, often to the detriment of the smaller ones (cf. Rodefield et al., 1978; Troughton, 1985; Heffernan, 1986; Strange, 1988). Furthermore, the practices that the subsidies have been designed to encourage may be abandoned after the subsidy has been removed (Swanson et al., 1986). European policy analysts have hoped to avoid this occurrence by requiring that eligible farmers belong to an organic certification agency. If organic practices are abandoned the agency would withdraw the certification label, and the producer would likely suffer financial consequences.

b.3.4 Tax provisions

Taxation policy has long been recognized as a factor in the creation of present agriculture problems. There is a need for a comprehensive review of how the Canadian tax code specifically discourages sustainable practices as a preliminary step toward identifying potential changes. A study of this kind was recently undertaken by the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) in the USA (Ward et al., 1989). According to the report, the 1986 US tax reforms reflected the need to protect the environment, an orientation that has been missing from Canadian tax law changes. The NRDC study identified many positive features of the Act, including removal of many of the benefits of tax shelter investing in agriculture, the bias to overproduction found in the treatment of capital investment incentives and capital gains, and incentives for bringing marginal land into production. The NRDC cautioned, however, that there remained unfinished business, including eliminating cash accounting and fertilizer and lime deductions to reduce incentives to excessive input expenditures, and changing Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance (ACCA) to reduce the incentive to break marginal land. The NRDC proposed ways to avoid unduly penalizing farmers or creating unnecessarily large administrative burdens.

Tax policy can be changed to create rewards. For example, the Rhode Island Division of Agriculture and Marketing is considering a proposal to eliminate property taxes for farmers following recognized sustainable practices (Frisch, 1989). Many Canadian provinces already have property tax rebate programs which could be altered to encourage sustainable production practices. The Conservation Council of Ontario (1986) recommended this approach.

A penalty approach has been receiving a great deal of attention lately. A number of analysts have proposed that a pollution tax be applied to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to better reflect the social and environmental costs of agricultural chemicals (Costanza, 1987; Fleming, 1987; Postel, 1987). Others have proposed low tax levels (around 1%) that would generate funds for pollution monitoring and for research aimed at discouraging use in the long term (Fleming, 1987; Postel, 1987; Ward et al., 1989). This approach may have some appeal to policy makers because costs are low, money is raised for other budget areas, and consumption is not restricted so much that the chemical lobby would be very actively opposed. It does not, however, reflect the polluter pays principle to which some jurisdictions have committed themselves. Also, this level of tax is not likely to reduce pollution in the short term (Daberkow and Reichelderfer, 1988; OECD, 1988). Alternatively, the tax level could be raised to the point where it has a meaningful allocative impact (Weinschenck, 1987).

Koopmans (1987) modelled the potential long-term effect in Europe of a 50% tax on fertilizers. He predicted major reductions in wheat and rice outputs, and greater than 20% reduction in fertilizer delivery to the environment. Even with these reductions he concluded that these "...measures to protect and improve the environment are not necessarily at variance with economic objectives, particularly farm incomes" (p. 158), since land and product prices would rise substantially. Other German data suggests that a fertilizer tax of 200% would reduce use by 30%, farm income by 25% and water pollution by 50%. Farmers would, in response, include more N-fixing crops in their rotations. A similar rate of tax on pesticides would reduce consumption to just 18% of current levels (OECD, 1988). Maass (1989) has calculated that a tax rate of 35% will cover many of the external costs of synthetic chemical use. A general problem with input taxes is that efficient, responsible, non-polluting users are as affected as polluters (OECD, 1988). Furthermore, such a tax could require more administrative inputs, result in higher consumer prices, and raise a psychological barrier for policy makers, i.e., promoting an explicit policy of production reduction in certain major farm commodities.

Pollution taxes on agricultural chemicals have been implemented in a number of jurisdictions in the USA and Europe and many others are considering them (Postel, 1987; OECD, 1988; Benbrook, 1989). Most of the jurisdictions using them have more acute environmental problems associated with agricultural chemicals than does Canada at the present time. Decision makers' interest in such penalties may only be triggered by high levels of contamination and a massive lobbying effort by environmental groups. The political power of the agrochemical sector may be sufficient to discourage governments from applying them.

Goldsmith (1988) proposed two other taxes: i) an amortization tax proportionate to the estimated life of the product -- a 100% tax for a product designed to last less than a year, no tax for something designed to last 100 years (not all goods would be affected by this of course, including food and some hygiene products); and ii) a transport tax to encourage use of local products.

Clearly penalties of this nature are controversial, with both winners and losers, but these taxes should be used as complements to other initiatives that address the design and management of agroecosystems.

c. Getting to redesign

The strategies discussed to this point contribute in incremental ways to the development of a sustainable agriculture. They only partly address, however, the sources of our agricultural problems and the institutional structure and processes required to support a comprehensive transition. What is required at this level is a redesign of institutional form, processes and interventions to reflect ecological laws and food system goals, and to implement strategies to create a truly sustainable agricultural system. The intent in discussing redesign strategies is not to be prescriptive, but to identify key issues and propose potential solutions that must be considered. Many important conceptual questions are not being asked (Lockeretz, 1988).

The ecological principles outlined previously provide a foundation for developing new goals for our food and agriculture system. Deficiencies in management within government have meant that there has been no mechanism for a far-ranging and participatory discussion of goals for a sustainable system. We present in Table 6 the main thinking that has taken place, and indicate its relationship to ecological principles. These goals are not comprehensive, and, as with all goal statements, some potential conflicts and contradictions are apparent. The critical challenge, following adoption of such goals, is evaluating their implications and choosing between apparently irreconcilable options. Some of the more profound implications are outlined in the following sections. To redesign the food system, the ultimate objective of transition, requires taking action in each of these areas.

c.1. Changing the role of the state in agricultural development

The federal government has primarily used agriculture as a tool to achieve other objectives, particularly to meet national economic objectives (Veeman and Veeman, 1976; Warnock, 1984; Forbes, 1985; Skogstad, 1987). This is consistent with the historic role of the state in Western democracies (cf. Bookchin, 1989). This limited role for the state is now widely perceived to be deficient because of an excessive reliance on the market as a vehicle for satisfying human needs (cf. Henderson, 1981; Robertson, 1983; Ekins, 1986), and an associated disproportionate transfer of resources and power to a ruling elite (cf. Mitchell, 1975; Buttel and Newby, 1980; Francis, 1986; Bonanno, 1987). Few countries have made significant progress toward addressing these deficiencies.

c.2 Designing the food system around the optimal diet

If a paramount goal of a food and agriculture system is to nourish a population, then the food production and distribution system must employ strategies to achieve that goal without compromise. Although the majority of Canada's population does not suffer from acute malnourishment, there are indicators to support the contention that the optimal diet has yet to be achieved. The continued high incidence of food related degenerative diseases among Canadians is particularly indicative. The Science Council of Canada (1979) proposed that Canada move towards an optimal diet scenario 10 years ago, but little progress has been made.

Other government jurisdictions have followed this approach. Norway in the 1970's set out to design its food and agriculture production and distribution system around an optimal diet and adjusted agricultural and regional development policies to meet these dietary targets (Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture, 1975). The policy was implemented by setting goals and establishing institutional supports, and the result has been changes to the way the food is produced and distributed.

The Norwegian proposal had four main goals: a) to stimulate the consumption of healthy foodstuffs (e.g., grains, potatoes and polyunsaturated fats) and decrease consumption of unhealthy ones (e.g., saturated fats, refined sugars) in order to reduce the incidence of some chronic diseases; b) to develop guidelines for food production as recommended by the World Food Council; c) to increase domestic food self-reliance from 39% of total calories to 52% by 1990; and d) to promote regional development. A variety of tools have been used to achieve these goals: production and consumer subsidies, marketing promotion based on nutritional quality, consumer education programs, improved labelling systems, and legislation to penalize the production of food and drink detrimental to health (Ringen, 1977). In taking this approach, however, the government has recognized that taste cannot be legislated. Consumer choice and the workings of the marketplace are still recognized as central to food purchasing patterns (Winikoff, 1977). Similar kinds of initiatives at the municipal level are underway around the world (cf., Haughton, 1987; Toronto Board of Health, 1988), many associated with the World Health Organization's Healthy Cities Project.

The Norwegian strategy has produced some positive results. Self-sufficiency reached 50% by 1988, and fat as a percentage of energy in the diet dropped from 40 (1975) to 37 (1987), although some undesirable fats have been inadvertently subsidized. Consumption of whole grains, fruit and low-fat milk is up and potato and grain quality has improved. A decline in cardiovascular deaths has, however, been partly attributed to the Nutrition Policy. Farmers have achieved income parity with industrial workers (Milio, 1988). The Norwegian work confirms the results of numerous studies suggesting a need for reducing the intake of processed foods generally, and salt, confectionary, chocolate, and soft drinks in particular, while increasing consumption of whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit within the context of a diversified diet (Gussow and Clancy, 1986; Cannon, 1988).

A growing body of research on the effects of production systems on food quality suggests that the optimal diet should include foods: a) without pesticide residues (cf. Pim, 1981; Clancy, 1986; National Research Council, 1987; Robbins, 1987), antibiotic residues (cf. Holmberg et al., 1984, 1987; Spika et al., 1987) and food additives (cf. Lawrence, 1986; Pim, 1986); b) produced with a complete, balanced fertilization program and not just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which may suppress the uptake of certain other essential elements (cf. Voisin, 1959; Albrecht, 1975; Petterssen, 1978; Knorr and Vogtmann, 1983; Linder, 1985); and c) from animal production systems in which confinement and dietary stresses are minimized (Boehncke, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988).

c.2.1 Implications of dietary needs for system design

The main implications for redesigning the Canadian food and agriculture system are profound and include:

1. Major redesign of the farm ecosystem to eliminate most agrochemicals from the production process (cf. MacRae et al., 1989b).

2. A shift in emphasis toward animal production systems that reduce carcass fat. This could involve some combination of reducing concentrates in the diet (Norway proposed this), lengthening the growing period or increasing forage intake (cf. National Research Council, 1988; Solomon and Lynch, 1989). Changes of this nature would have substantial farm management and design implications since many livestock enterprises in Canada are structured around a high concentrate diet and rapid fattening. Many farms rely on purchased feed and do not have a sufficient land base to grow their own grains and forages. Manure disposal is an associated problem.

3. Focus on food production for fresh market and minimal processing outlets -- Canadians have been consuming more fresh food for some time (Kramer, 1989), and this trend would continue during the growing season under an optimal diet scenario (cf. Grimme et al., 1986). To meet this requirement and the other goals of a sustainable food system, more regional distribution systems are necessary. There are also significant implications for the food import and export economy.

The processing industry would become more seasonal. Demand for many processed products would slump dramatically during the Canadian growing season, but rise substantially during the off-season if imports were restricted to meet other sustainability goals. This is desirable from an optimal diet perspective as there is some evidence that properly frozen or canned local produce is nutritionally as good as, or even superior to, "fresh" produce shipped over long distances (Kramer, 1989). This scenario would create difficulties for the processing industry, and these would have to be addressed.

Certain forms of processing would be discouraged, such as removal of fibre from grains; bleaching; addition of salt, refined sugar, food additives; and boiling in fat, oil or water (Hall, 1974, Silverstein, 1984; Grimme et al., 1986).

4. A more diverse diet implies a more diversified production system. To meet other sustainable agriculture goals, this diversification should be achieved within farm units rather than by creating specialized production systems to produce new crops. Diversification has been occurring in animal feed and industrial crops (cf. Campbell, 1987; Joliffe and Snapp, 1988; Joliffe, 1989), but opportunities for imported human foods substitution have not been well explored.

c.2.2 Addressing consumer choice

Consumer choice is a major concern. In Norway, food production and nutrition information was provided to motivate better dietary habits and to provide skills for informed food choices. The government recognized that . . . "present marketing practices are in relatively large disaccord with the nutritional objectives . . . The factors which today regulate sales are only to a small degree dictated by nutritional considerations." (Norwegian Department of Agriculture, 1975:72). These words also describe Canada's situation. A number of strategies for addressing this problem of marketing practices have been discussed in previous sections. Ultimately the marketing and advertising of food must have as the central principle that consumers be provided an opportunity for "fully informed" choice. This requires that marketers and advertisers believe that people are capable of making informed decisions if they are provided with full, comprehensible information. Profound changes would, thus, be required for:

1. grading systems -- presently, these reflect largely cosmetic criteria, not nutritional considerations (Pimentel et al., 1977; McKinney and Gold, 1987; Feenstra, 1988). Grades should instead reflect the products' compliance with the optimal diet criteria, as outlined in Table 7.

2. labels -- current regulations present a very narrow conception of nutrition, no information on the food production process is provided, and often incomplete information on ingredients and nutritional value is presented. A more comprehensive system would reflect optimal diet and other sustainability criteria by providing an index of the product's compliance. A recent survey by the Grocery Products Manufacturers of Canada concluded that 80% of consumers read ingredient labels on packaged foods, up from an estimated 2% in 1983 (Bertin, 1989). An example of a more informative label is provided in Figure 3. Creating such an index is a difficult task, but the federal government's "Environmentally Friendly Products" program, operated by Environment Canada, provides a base of experience, in terms of both data and process. As well, a number of non-profit organizations, promoting ethical investment and purchasing, have developed systems for rating products (cf. Will et al., 1988; Pollution Probe Foundation, 1989).

3. advertising -- In 1986 Canadian grocery retailers spent $2.5 billion on advertising (Matas, 1987). Although advertising can contribute to market efficiency by providing consumers with information, it can also be part of an insidious process of misinforming or partially informing the public (Singer, 1986). The costs of this misinformation are borne by the victims of it, directly in product prices, or indirectly in lost government tax revenues (because advertising expenses receive preferential tax treatment) (McQuaig, 1987). A number of studies suggest advertising is often not cost effective, and that it contributes to waste, monopoly and higher prices (Singer, 1986). Although extensive regulations exist to control how products are advertised (Consumer and Corporate Affairs, 1988), the focus is on preventing obvious cases of fraudulence as opposed to creating a framework for providing full information on a product.

The Science Council of Canada (1979) proposed that advertising of nutritionally-questionable products be curtailed by government intervention. This could be one component of an integrated strategy to promote the optimal diet and eliminate or restrict advertising activities that make the optimal diet more difficult to achieve. One possible requirement is that food products that are undesirable or peripheral to the optimal diet be labelled as such.

c.3 Weaning Canada from the import-export agricultural economy

Canada enjoyed a balance of agricultural trade surplus of $2.12 billion dollars in 1987 (Aubé, 1988). Grain exports are the major contributor to this positive trade balance with $5.12 billion in export sales (1987) (Aubé, 1988), largely from Prairie production. The other regions of Canada, however, are net importers.

Our reliance on the Praire grain economy for a favourable agricultural trade balance has placed undue economic and environmental pressure on a narrow range of production sectors and practices. Dependence on imported food, on the other hand, has resulted in resource inefficiencies (those that are largely considered externalities because they are not measured in the market place), and a less nutritious food supply. This section explores the importance for designing a sustainable food system of reducing our reliance on the import-export treadmill.

c.3.1 Self-reliance

Policies of self-reliance are controversial, especially in our present Free Trade environment, but in the 1989 Throne Speech, the federal government expressed its desire to facilitate the development of a more self-reliant agricultural sector. It is not our intention to discuss in detail the rationale for self-reliance as this has been done elsewhere (e.g., Science Council of Canada, 1979; Warnock, 1982; Morris, 1982; Ekins, 1986; Meeker-Lowry, 1988; Kneen, 1989), but the general principle has been outlined by Meeker-Lowry (1988:167). "Self-reliance in socioeconomic systems has its analogue in natural systems. As a general rule of natural process, energy (and subsequent action) are captured or expended as close to the point of origin as possible". Harnapp (1988) has summarized the problems of relying on imports. Such an approach results in a) a food supply vulnerable to disruption (e.g., Chilean grape incident of 1989, 1981 California Medfly scare); b) energy inefficiency and costliness (transportation costs amount to 8% of consumer supermarket expenditures); c) less nutritious food (e.g., vine-ripened tomatoes have 25-30% more vitamin C compared to those ripened with ethylene gas); and d) a weakened local economy ($4 billion left Ontario in food import expenses in 1985, 80% of the amount spent -- i.e., only 20% of consumer expenditures on imports remain in the province).

Generally, self-reliance strategies have 3 elements: a) plugging resource and monetary leaks; b) encouraging new enterprises to build on local strengths; and c) promoting businesses that can build on underutilized resources (Rocky Mountain Institute, 1986).

Canada could plug a number of leaks in its food economy. Just after World War II, Canada was self-sufficient in certain fruits (plums, peaches, apricots, strawberries, pears). By 1980, the percentages for these 5 fruits ranged from 43-72% (Warnock, 1984). In 1987, Canada was 71% self-sufficient (production as a percentage of disposition) in fresh vegetables, 90% in canned vegetables, and almost 100% in frozen vegetables, and 45% in fruits and berries (Statistics Canada, 1988). These national figures hide regional differences. For example, Saskatchewan was estimated to be only 10% self-sufficient in vegetables (Canadian Organic Producers' Marketing Cooperative, 1984). Some of this is explained by the seasonality of Canadian production and storage, but many products, such as cabbages, onions and carrots, are still imported during both production and peak stored product distribution periods (Warnock, 1984). Over the years we have lost a great deal of processing capacity in certain sectors, such as tomatoes (OPIRG, 1979). We are net importers of apple juice concentrate (Aubé, 1988), even though we produce large quantities of apples. During the 80s, Canada has also been a net importer of poultry and eggs (Warnock, 1984).

c.3.2. Changes to land use patterns

The loss of prime agricultural land is one of the greatest threats to self-reliance and the sustainability of Canadian agriculture. Over 6.5 million acres of agricultural land was lost to other uses between 1951 and 1986 (Burke, 1988), and projections are that this trend will continue. Between 1966 and 1981, 57% of all rural land converted to urban uses was prime farm land (Class I-III) (Yeates, 1985).

Warnock (1982), in his study of self-reliance in British Columbia, expressed concern for the loss of the land base in fruits and vegetables, and concluded that maintaining self-sufficiency at 47% would require a 40-60% increase in production to the year 2000. Even so, this would still leave the province far short of its desired objective of 65% self-sufficiency. Harnapp (1988) concluded that Ontario would need over 9 million acres of land in food production to be self-sufficient at present consumption patterns (presently just over 8 million acres is in production, but some of that is in non-food crops). A major decline in red meat consumption would dramatically decrease Ontario land needs. Similarly, Eastern Canada (from Ontario to the Maritimes) would likely need to reduce the current levels of dairying if it wished to reallocate land use to achieve greater self-reliance (Warkentin and Gertler, 1977).

A variety of strategies for preserving agricultural land have been used or in Canada with varying degrees of success (cf. Science Council of Canada, 1979; Furuseth and Pierce, 1982). The two provinces with the greatest urbanization pressures, Ontario and British Columbia, have not succeeded in substantially reducing the rate of loss (Warren et al., 1989). There are many potential legislative strategies that have been tested in other jurisdictions (cf. Steiner and Theilacker, 1984). Community land trusts (cf. Institute for Community Economics, 1982), and conservation easements (cf. Sand, 1985; Ward et al., 1989) are also being explored in Canada.

c.4 Redesigning the management of the organization to assist transition

Current governmental organizational culture has been characterized by: a lack of long-term direction; weak control by individual units over their resources; too many different relationships to maintain; a lack of clear indicators of success and failure; a lack of flexibility for providing rewards; stifled creativity, which diminishes the contribution of the individual in favour of the institutional culture; and "infoglut" (Plumptre, 1988). As such, the challenge is to consciously redesign the organization and management of government departments in order that they are more responsive to ecological realities and thus facilitate the emergence of a redesigned food and agriculture system (Wright, 1989). What follows are patterns for the designing of institutions responsive to ecological realities, in this case, sustainable agriculture.

Organizations have their own ecology (Plumptre, 1988; Morley and Wright, 1989), that can mimic that of the systems with which they are concerned (Walters and Holling, 1984; Solway, 1988; Morgan, 1989a). Management theory has recognized and applied this concept to business organizations (cf. Peters and Waterman, 1982; Wright and Morley, 1989). A key concept is that of "fit", that the organization must fit into the environment with which it works (Plumptre, 1988; Kolodny, 1989). Morgan (1989a:55-56) stated that, ". . . the internal diversity of any self-regulating system must match the complexity of its environment if it is to deal with the challenges posed by that environment". The language of "fit" is ecological. People speak of organizations as miniature ecosystems, of the uniqueness of each organization, of symbiotic and catalytic relationships within the organization, and internal consistency and integrity, of complex webs of relationships, processes, systems and structures.

Some of the organizational implications of current management practices for agricultural organizations are presented in Table 8 and are related to the ecological laws discussed earlier. These ideas are particularly important for government units dealing with intangible outcomes that can not be controlled or predicted, as opposed to those whose work is routine and often involves physical goods (Plumptre, 1988). The most critical ecological realities for organizational design relate to law #5 (Table 2), the phenomenon of radical, unpredictable transformation of ecosystems once a threshold has been reached (Solway, 1988). Such transformations are often both large and physically or economically irreversible (Walters and Holling, 1984). In agriculture, examples of these transformations include the fairly rapid development of a farm financial crisis in the early eighties and the appearance of agricultural pollutants in high concentrations in a variety of water sources. The organic food industry appears to be experiencing a threshold phenomenon at present. After years of being perceived as a marginal agricultural activity, organic food production is suddenly unable to keep up with demand. Agricultural professionals are studying organic farming systems at unprecedented levels, and government departments are scrambling to develop policy initiatives and supports to accommodate this system of farming. In all cases, government has been slow to recognize the nature of the phenomenon and to take appropriate action, primarily because the institutional organizational design does not "fit" that of the organic "environment".

How should organizations be designed to be able to respond quickly and effectively to such a threshold? It must first be able to recognize the approach of a threshold by monitoring early indicators. This requires that the organization be close to its "clients" and their environment. It must have well-established intelligence networks that do not collect all the information available, but instead focus on the key indicators that herald changes, and trigger institutional responses (Table 9). A continuous feedback process is also required so that indicators can always be sought and responses constantly evaluated for their impact (Morgan, 1989a).

Once threshold or problems are identified the search for solutions also follows a different process. Hill (1986) has outlined the characteristics of an alternative problem-solving framework and contrasted it with the predominant approach which has suffered from the predominance of positivist, reductionist paradigms (Table 10). Problem-solving teams, staffed with generalists who have broad job descriptions that allow them to reorganize for each new task, should be formed to be able to respond to emergent problems (Morgan, 1989a). Such teams often "compete" in the development of appropriate solutions, each approaching the problem from a different angle. This approach, known as "redundancy of function", spreads risk and produces greater diversity of thought and action (Morgan, 1989a; Morley, 1989).

Such changes need not be perceived as radical departures from existing practice. Canada's Auditor General (1988) has identified a number of governmental organizations that operate in accordance with some of these principles, including emphasis on people, participative leadership, innovative work styles, strong client orientations (ear to the ground), and optimum performance. The task is to build on such positive models.


Our intention in this paper has been to identify how Canadian governments might move forward in an incremental, evolutionary way, while, at the same time, maintaining a long-term, broad development perspective. Some successes will result with each incremental step, but only when the redesign stage has been achieved will we have crossed the threshold necessary to achieve a truly sustainable agriculture. Appropriate redesign is the ultimate instrumental goal, but it must include taking action on all levels, and on a wide range of strategies. To focus on only a few of the initiatives outlined would be self-defeating. Just as sustainability requires diversification on the farm, so does policy to support sustainability require diversified approaches.

Clearly, we have glossed over some important areas for which our understanding is limited. As the government begins to implement immediately achievable efficiency and substitution strategies, it will be necessary to initiate a number of new studies on those subjects of a longer-term nature. We recommend, in particularly, studies be initiated on the following:

a) End use analysis -- this has been done successfully in energy (cf. Lovins and Lovins, 1982; Brooks et al., 1983). This is a design strategy that focuses on what we wish to achieve in the future and then investigates possible ways of achieving these goals.

b) Initiatives to finance a transition to sustainable agriculture -- it appears that a shift to sustainable agriculture could reduce government expenditures in a number of areas, including subsidies, and environmental and health care costs (cf. MacRae et al., 1989b, Ward et al., 1989). What is needed are some detailed analyses of potential savings, and the manner and schedule by which such savings can be used to finance other initiatives to promote sustainability.

c) The optimal diet scenario and its systemic implications -- some preliminary work has been done on this, but much more detailed analysis would create a more workable road map for achieving it. In particular, we have the opportunity to learn from Norway's mistakes in this approach.

d) Design of optimal reward systems for agricultural professionals.

e) Study of the implications of widespread adoption of sustainable practices in Canada.

f) The design of a participatory goal articulation process for the Canadian food and agriculture system -- we do not yet have clear goals for a sustainable agriculture, nor do we have a clear process for developing such goals.

g) Redefining risk in an ecological context and investigating the associated policy implications -- if our current concept of risk is too limited, what are the implications for government and private institutions?

Finally, we can not stress enough the dangers of compromising the long-term in the quest of short-term successes. Sustainability transcends short time horizons. Concern for future generations must become an integral part of our institutional culture.


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