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CanNor seeks applicants for food security projects

France Benoit, member of Alternatives North, says that funding for food security in the North is a good thing, but cautions against the trap of "innovation" labels. Natalie Pressman/NNSL

The Government of Canada is now accepting applications for Northern, community-led projects focused on improving food securing in Canada’s territories. 

The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) is seeking applications for phase one of the Northern Food Innovation Challenge until March 31. 

In June, eight applicants will be chosen to receive funding of up to $250,000 to launch a prototype of their project. The eight groups will be invited to a catalyst workshop in the summer or fall to exchange ideas between applicants and experts. 

Proposals should seek to address issues around food production, processing and distribution in remote and vulnerable communities. 

Applications are open to not-for-profit, Indigenous and municipal governments, small and medium sized businesses, academic institutions and economic development corporations. 

France Benoit, member of Alternatives North, says that funding for food security in the North is a good thing, but cautions against the trap of "innovation" labels. Natalie Pressman/NNSL

The Northern Food Innovation Challenge, one of three streams under the Northern Isolated Community Initiatives (NICI) Fund, is looking for projects to develop or introduce new technology or processes and build capacity or improve existing methods of Northern food production, distribution, transportation or storage. 

On behalf of Alternatives North, a Yellowknife-based organization advocating for social and environmental justice, France Benoit cautions that while funding food security projects is great, the innovation label can sometimes be a trap.  

She said the CanNor funding is “potential for a great opportunity and also potential to just keep doing more of the same.”

She explained that “innovative” projects, as they pertain to agriculture, are often focused in hydroponics – a method of growing crops without soil. Hydroponics, in turn, has limitations in what can be grown rapidly and is used for greens, “which doesn’t provide a lot of nutrition,” Benoit said.

“Greens are a wonderful supplement to a meal,” she said, adding that “local food production needs to be increased swiftly and drastically in the North.” She suggested projects rely on root vegetables, which are more calorie dense and don’t require big infrastructure to grow.

“If communities don’t have soil, we can make it with compost and natural products,” she said.

Benoit, who runs a farming operation called LeRefuge Farms, described a food economy of increasingly fewer options.

She recalls the 2015 wildfires that created obstacles in shipping food into the territory. Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, she tells of more “major disruptions in the food system.”

She said she can no longer just decide what kinds of foods to produce for her business but must instead first determine which ingredients are available to her.

“That’s never something I’ve had to do before,” she said.

By February 2023, three of the funding finalists will move on to phase two of the Northern Food Innovation Challenge. Finalists will receive an additional $1 million of funding to focus on scaling and implementing projects at the local level.

While CanNor spokesperson Naomi Sharpe said they aim to have representation from all territories for Phase one, the cohort’s final makeup will be based on individual project assessments.

The solutions likely to be the most successful, Benoit said, tackle broad projects and assess all aspects of food security in the North.

“It is a good news story,” she said. “It would be a really good news story if the funding programs were part of a broad food security project that the community organization gets funding so it’s not just funding technology and innovation.”