Addressing the panel on self-sufficiency and supply chains in the context of COVID-19 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Ghislain Gervais, president of Sollio Cooperative Group, shared his thoughts on limiting the short-term consequences and long-term effects on the agrifood industry’s supply chain. Based on past experience, Sollio Cooperative Group has proposed five avenues for action to stimulate economic recovery and support the entire agrifood chain as it faces the current challenges generated by the pandemic as well as the future on the markets for Canada's largest agricultural cooperative with century-old roots.
Agricultural producers and food processors are experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in several ways. For Olymel alone, costs to date amount to more than $20 million, not counting lost market margins.
In early May, Sollio Cooperative Group and five other agrifood organizations urged governments to set up a specific assistance program for the agrifood sector to ensure its viability and the food security of Canadians. The federal government had just announced support measures that were a step in the right direction but clearly insufficient.
Proposing five avenues for action
These avenues are aimed at helping the entire agrifood chain face current challenges and position itself for the future on the markets:
- Increasing productivity, including through automating and robotizing infrastructures;
- Increasing food self-sufficiency, but also sustained support for exporters through investments in food processing. Agrifood is a major export sector;
- Developing the vitality of the regions is also an important aspect of the recovery, in particular by speeding up deployment of telecommunications infrastructures;
- Supporting a more sustainable economy, which involves significant support for the digitization and performance of agriculture, as well as promoting and supporting the cooperative business model, which has proven its worth and is in line with Canadian values, while enabling the development of large-scale enterprises;
- Promoting frontline trades, since labour shortages are still very much present even with the unemployment rates we are experiencing. The last few months have reminded us how vital the frontline trades are and how important it is that they be valued and supported.
In concluding, Mr. Gervais reminded the committee that supply chains were put to the test even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic because of the CN strike, rail blockades and difficulties in accessing the Chinese market. “Canadian government support must be well targeted and sustained to protect our supply chains. Supporting us in our investments, in a context of scarce resources, means ensuring that Canada will be able to increase its food self-sufficiency, as well as better protect its capacity and its reputation as a world-class exporter,” he said.