Permanent, multi-story agriculture

Long-term redesign of the food system involves substantial shifts to food from perennial plants and highly metabolically efficient animals and animal products.  Although there are many farm-level successful examples of such "permaculture" systems, little economic analysis has been conducted on a wider level, although what has been done suggests economic viability for many operations at a range of scales (Bastien, 2016). Bastien (2016) reported in her Quebec study that viability was enhanced with organic certification, value added products and limited numbers of enterprises and off-farm employment.   Modelling work has yet to be undertaken to help identify transition pathways to perennial agriculture, especially the mix of perennial and annual systems that will sustain the Canadian population while minimizing resource use and environmental disruption.

Permaculture is an ecological design approach to food production and distribution (Mollison, 1997), with a particular emphasis on creating analogs of natural ecosystems that mimic processes and organisms of the ecological region in which food is produced. It is informed by traditional knowledge, but is not consistent with indigenous ways of knowing (see Frameworks, General, Aboriginal Ways of Knowing). In Canada, permaculture means greater reliance on fruit and nut trees, shrubs and vines and grasslands and the animals that sustain themselves on grass. Scavenger animals fed scraps that humans can't consume are also part of such systems.  There are an ever expanding number of farms in North America, taking his approach (see for example, New Forest Farm in Wisconsin).  A significant research effort to develop perennial grains (particularly wheat and sorghum), oilseeds (especially sunflower) and vegetables (some of which are part of human consumption history) are also part of this approach (Jackson 1980; Mattern, 2012).

Given current human settlement patterns and densities, it is not obvious the degree to which we can depend on such systems.  They are productive, but not always in things that are part of a current conventional diet. The infrastructure to make some foods of permaculture systems readily available is also sometimes limited, for example, not that many operations are able to harvest, shell, clean and sort nuts for retail. And there are significant questions about their ability to satisfy the cultural food diversity of Canada.

Because we do not yet understand the mix of perennial and annual systems and what level of ecological design can realistically be applied, permanent agriculture will coexist to some degree with highly advanced annual systems employing stage 3 IPM and organic production techniques.

So, while there is a permaculture imperative, the path to optimize it is not yet clear.  If modelling is implemented at the Efficiency stage (see Research and Development), the steps will be better articulated for implementation at this stage.

Payments for ecosystem services (PES)

At the redesign stage, the shift to ecological economic systems is well underway (see Goal 3, Reducing Corporate Concentration, Redesign). In such systems, producers are rewarded for all the public services they provide, not just for provision of commodities.  Since conventional markets are unable to value many of these public services, reliance on market approaches is typically incomplete. A mix of market and non-market revenue streams are available to producers as a result, including payments for providing environmental services.  This helps to overcome the externalities problem of conventional systems.  Although there are many reviews of PES programs and instruments (e.g, Mayrand and Paquin, 2004; Powers, 2010; Lippers and Neves, 2011; Schomers and Matzdorf, 2013), none model a normative redesign scenario.

Ecosystem service payments can take multiple forms through multiple avenues and instruments.  Further research on optimal design is required (see Research and Development, Efficiency) and some of the measures described under Substitution fall into this category.  At the Redesign stage, there needs to be a fully integrated PES approach.

Fully integrated means linkages across numerous domains, and with a range of instruments applied to achieving that integration.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment identified four classes of ecosystem services that need to be interconnected:

1.Supporting, necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services, such as primary production, production of oxygen, and soil formation.

2.Provisioning, products people obtain from ecosystems, such as food, water, genetic resources,and fuel.

3.Regulating, benefits people obtain from the regulation of ecosystem processes, such as climate, water purification,and erosion control.

4.Cultural, non-material benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation,and aesthetic experiences.

This is obviously broader than just food system function, so there needs to be coherent intervention  across food, fuel, forestry, water and industrial activities.  It can also be connected to integrated income security architecture (see Goal 1, Redesign), in that payments for ecological services, depending on farmer eligibilities, can be substitutes of top ups for income security instruments.

Another key area of integration will be with instruments used at the Redesign stage for Demand Supply Coordination (Goal 2).  Significant changes to what we produce and consume are required and the PES measures need to support those shifts.

Measures that will need to be part of the instrument mix include:

  • targeted, region-specific transition payments to increase production of under-produced foods consistent with a demand-supply coordination framework;
  • price supports for production systems that are challenging yet critical for maintaining regional biodiversity and other ecological services, culture, amenity, or combinations thereof
  • regional and ecologically focused processor subsidies, on a per unit basis, to assure regional supply of perishable foods that require processing to extend their consumption season (e.g., berries)
  • Per hectare payments to landowners to maintain critical habitat (e.g., grasslands, wetlands, forest ecosystems), culturally significant areas (e.g., historical and spiritual sites) and amenities (e.g., walking trails).
  • Area payments to groups maintaining commons (e.g., grazing lands, fish habitat)