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This article was paid for by representatives of John Janmaat - BC Green Party Candidate - Kelowna-Lake Country
I grew up on a dairy farm in Chilliwack, and as I made my way to a Ph.D. in economics, agriculture was a recurrent theme in the research I undertook. This research spanned government insurance for farmers, the role of marketing cooperatives and economic factors contributing to sustainability challenges in an irrigation system in Karnataka State, India. Several important lessons were left with me, which I try to keep in mind in my current work. One is that the farmers I worked with know more about their situation than I do and I’ll learn more from them than I’ll ever teach them. I do a better job when I listen to farmers and work with them to understand their decisions than when I try to be the expert in the room.
Since my arrival at UBC’s Okanagan campus in 2007, I have managed several research projects that look at how farmers here in the Okanagan interact with their environment. I have also participated in conferences where these issues were front and center and I'm presently chair of the Agricultural Advisory Committee for the City of Kelowna.
As a rule, economists see markets as the best way for a society to figure out how to use its resources, with governments getting involved only when the costs of that involvement are clearly less than the damage resulting from a poorly functioning market. Forgetting one of the central lessons from my earlier research, I came to the Okanagan believing that a free market for water would be the solution to the water challenges we face here, something farmers would understand with a bit of education. I ended up being the one that got an education!
My first research project upon arriving at the Okanagan campus was meant to demonstrate how a free market for water could improve the efficiency of water use for local farmers. My exposure to the work of other research economists and what I had learned about water markets in places like Australia, made it obvious to me that this was the right solution for the Okanagan. It slowly became obvious to me that I didn’t understand the Okanagan. While there would be some benefit if farmers could transfer water among themselves to reflect different needs, there is no appetite for a water market. There is a shared concern about the availability of water for agriculture, in the future, as population growth gobbles up farmland and demands more and more water from our system. That growing and more urban population is ever more disconnected from agriculture and demanding environmental rules that don’t recognize the situation farmers are in. The farm community does not feel its concerns are being heard. In particular, the Water Sustainability Act, BC’s main water legislation, is being applied in a way that is making it harder for farmers to secure the water supplies they need to adapt to the changing climate.
Actually listening to farmers, rather than presuming to understand their motivations better than they do, is important. Another project of mine sought to understand what could support farmer neighbours working together to protect or enhance natural assets like stream channels on their land. These stream channels can contribute to climate resilience by providing natural storm drains for the increasingly severe storms we are experiencing and providing natural habitats for fish and other species that use these riparian areas. However, protecting these areas complicates farm management and creates costs. We heard that complicated regulations and protracted approval processes are serious barriers to projects like this. The farmers we worked with were willing to postpone taking actions to deal with issues on their farm for a while, but at some point waiting was no longer an option and the problems being experienced on the farms had to be dealt with. We must develop programs and have people in place to work with farmers on their own timeline, rather than expecting farmers to adapt to the government timeline when they are willing to be partners in providing environmental benefits to the larger community.
Farmers make their decisions within a complex environment that includes the land they are farming, the climate where they are farming, the markets they are involved with and the various programs and policies of different levels of government. Farmers recognize that the climate is changing, which creates new risks and opportunities. An ongoing research project seeks to better understand how this environment of markets, programs and policies impacts the ability of farmers to adapt to the changing climate. Our consultations so far have pointed to water as the top-level concern here in the Okanagan. The current provincial policies we have and the way they are being implemented seem to be making it more difficult for farmers to manage the greater uncertainty climate change is likely to deliver. We have also heard repeatedly that farmers think governments should have an important role in providing information farmers can use to make better decisions (extension services), a role that the government of BC has abandoned, even though other provinces and states are still actively involved.
The farmers I have spoken with recognize that how they manage their land affects the larger community. They are willing to change their practices to accommodate these broader interests when their efforts are recognized and when they are not asked to bear costs that compromise their ability to sustain the livelihood they enjoy. Policies that limit options, create bottlenecks, or fail to respect the connection farmers have with the land do not encourage participation by farmers. In my experience, farmers are willing partners in addressing our collective environmental issues, so long as they are treated as partners and not as the problem.
The farmers of the Okanagan have been important teachers for me, driving home the point that listening and careful consideration of the ideas people bring is central to making good choices for our communities. The policies we implement as governments affect people. We need to base our policy on evidence, including evidence about the effects policy has on people. We also need to keep collecting evidence to be sure our policies are working for people and change them when the evidence shows we can do better. I have accepted the nomination for the Green Party in Kelowna - Lake Country. Of all the parties, I find that the Green Party has the strongest commitment to the long term wellbeing of the people in our communities and the planet we live on, and puts evidence over ideology. The Green Party is committed to finding the best policies and working across political differences to implement them. My name is on the ballot to provide you with a way to indicate that you want our government to do more to make BC and the Okanagan sustainable and to ensure that all people are able to participate in the new economy that is emerging.
To learn more about John and his campaign please visit bcgreens.ca/john_janmaat or join one of our Meet and Greet events listed below. Please email email@example.com to register for a Zoom event.
Authorized by Ken Guido, financial agent, (250) 470-9606
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