, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 271-281
Date: 12 Aug 2006

Crop diversification and trade liberalization: Linking global trade and local management through a regional case study

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Some models anticipate that liberalized agricultural trade will lead to increased crop diversity, while other models make the opposite claim. These positions were explored in southwestern British Columbia, Canada where, between 1992 and 1998, government subsidies and other measures designed to protect horticultural farmers were lifted, exposing these farmers to foreign competition. Public hearings on the future of agriculture provided an opportunity to tap the knowledge and experience of people affected by this transition. Analysis of transcripts from these hearings, which was confirmed by industry data, shows that trade liberalization has led to the loss of the local fruit and vegetable processing industry. Stakeholders saw the loss as a major factor affecting the choice of crops grown locally. To test this assertion, crop diversity data were analyzed, differentiating crops grown for the processing industry from those grown for the fresh market. Results show that crop diversity increased for processing crops but not for fresh crops. Farmers who used to produce commodities for the fruit and vegetable processing industry seem to have been forced to find new crops to cope with the decline in the processing industry. Here then is a case where the effects of trade were indirect (they were mediated by another variable: the loss of the processing industry) and variable (they differed for the two groups of crops). This may have significant environmental implications as scientific research shows that diverse agro-ecosystems are better able to withstand pest outbreaks and require less agri-chemicals than simple systems.

Evan Fraser (PhD, British Columbia) is a lecturer at the Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA and an MSc from the University of Toronto. His PhD is in Resource Management and Environmental Studies. Professional experience includes contracts in remote Ontario working on fish and wildlife related issues, agro-forestry work in Central America, and project management experience in South East Asia. Current research interests include the link between global and local food production systems, human vulnerability to global change, and sustainable cities.