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Original Research

Impact of Euro-Canadian agrarian practices: in search of sustainable import-substitution strategies to enhance food security in subarctic Ontario, Canada

Submitted: 8 May 2012
Revised: 12 January 2013
Accepted: 12 January 2013
Published: 8 May 2013

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Author(s) : Spiegelaar NF, Tsuji LJS.

Citation: Spiegelaar NF, Tsuji LJS.  Impact of Euro-Canadian agrarian practices: in search of sustainable import-substitution strategies to enhance food security in subarctic Ontario, Canada. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2013; 13: 2211. Available: (Accessed 19 October 2017)


Introduction: In Canada, food insecurity exists among Aboriginal (Inuit, Metis and First Nations) people living in remote northern communities, in part, because of their reliance on the industrialized, import-based food system. Local food production as a substitute to imports would be an adaptive response, but enhancement of food security via food localization requires reflection on previous failings of conventional agricultural strategies so that informed decisions can be made. In light of potential reintroduction of local food production in remote First Nations communities, we investigated the cultural, social and ecological effects of a 20th century, Euro-Canadian agrarian settlement on the food system of a subarctic First Nation; this will act as the first step in developing a more sustainable local food program and enhancing food security in this community.
Methods: To investigate the socio-cultural impacts of the Euro-Canadian agrarian initiative on the food system of Fort Albany First Nation, purposive, semi-directive interviews were conducted with elders and other knowledgeable community members. Interview data were placed into themes using inductive analyses. To determine the biophysical impact of the agrarian initiative, soil samples were taken from one site within the cultivated area and from one site in an undisturbed forest area. Soil properties associated with agricultural use and productivity were assessed. To compare the means of a given soil property between the sites, one-tailed t-tests were employed. Vegetative analysis was conducted in both sites to assess disturbance.
Results: According to the interviewees, prior to the agrarian initiative, First Nation families harvested wild game and fish, and gathered berries as well as other forms of vegetation for sustenance. With the introduction of the residential school and agrarian initiative, traditional food practices were deemed inadequate, families were forced to work and live in the settlement (becoming less reliant on traditional foods), and yet little knowledge sharing of agricultural practices occurred. When the residential school and agrarian movement came to an end in the 1970s, First Nation community members were left to become reliant on an import food system. The missionís agrarian techniques resulted in overall degradation of soil quality and ecological integrity: compared the natural boreal forest, the cultivated area had been colonized by invasive species and had significantly lower soil levels of nitrogen, magnesium and organic carbon, and significantly higher levels of phosphorus and bulk density.
Conclusions: Because the agrarian initiative was not a viable long-term approach to food security in Fort Albany, the people became more reliant on imported goods. Taking into account climate change, there exists an opportunity whereby fruits and vegetables, historically stunted-in-growth or outside the distributional range of subarctic Canada, could now grow in the north. Together, agroecosystem stewardship practices and community-based, autonomous food security programs have the potential to increase locally grown food availability in a sustainable manner.

Key words: agroecosystems, climate change, Euro-Canadian agriculture, First Nations, food security, import-substitution, subarctic Canada, sustainability.

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