The response to the societal problem of the sustainability of our lands

La réponse au problème sociétal de la pérennité de nos terres

At first glance, with the popularity of summer markets, local food and this wave of new agricultural entrepreneurs, one might think that everything is going well for the farming community. But one letter from Stephanie Wang of the farm Le Rizen , recent winner of the Laurier for producer of the year, is sounding the alarm.

It is the cry from the heart of an organic market gardener, but also of a sociologist who is concerned about the sustainability of our agricultural land and that of producers, to the extent that we have crossed the tipping point or income of a producer will no longer be enough to repay the purchase of land during his working life.

Agro-tourism, farm schools, day camps, concerts, farm tables, producers are working to diversify but the main reason behind these actions remains the need to generate more income. The farmer must also act as a balancing act to manage to remain within the framework of the law protecting the agricultural territory administered by the CPTAQ , law which imposes a ceiling on tourist income.

According to data compiled by Farm Credit Canada reports that the average value of farmland has jumped 248% over the past 10 years. For example, in 2022, the price of one hectare in Montérégie was around $48,000. There is always a lot of demand, and little land available for sale, which invites bidding wars and speculation. More and more non-farmers own agricultural land, and according to this article from Radio-Canada, the Quebec government would not even know the figures corresponding to this movement.

How then can we protect the land that feeds us, when many agricultural lands are deprived of their nourishing function every day, probably forever? There is a real danger for our food sovereignty and there will have to be many solutions to respond to the size of the problem, but one model in particular exists to ensure the sustainability of a land, the FUSA (Agroecological Social Utility Trust) .

Protecting our agricultural lands thanks to FUSA

Hubert Lavallée chairs Protec-Terre , a registered charity that offers resources to support producers wishing to create a FUSA and thus protect their land in perpetuity. Its mission is the preservation and ecological protection of land for subsequent generations and to benefit communities. It is a tool for preserving agricultural land and its heritage character in perpetuity (agricultural, ecological, historical, community, even landscapes can be protected as is already done in Switzerland.). This video sums up what a FUSA is.

How it works? The land deposited in a FUSA no longer belongs to anyone. It becomes a designated asset, that is to say it exists only for the accomplishment of its purpose (its mission) and is administered by the board of trustees. For example, the producer can become a surface owner with an agreement protecting his investments and his business. Protec-Terre works hand in hand with complementary services with the organization Arterre , which offers support to facilitate matchmaking between aspiring farmers and owners. Each MRC member of the network offers the services of a networking agent.

Protec-Terre would like to propose the creation of a tax-advantaged fund like, for example, a Workers' Fund like the FTQ, whose return would not be that of a gazelle but would represent an investment proposition better corresponding to the values and needs of our society.

The fine example of France

France is already doing it with the organization Terre de Liens , which relies on an associative and civic dynamic making it possible to acquire agricultural land and to install a new generation of farmers on organic farming farms. These places recreate the link between farmers and citizens, while promoting biodiversity and respect for the soil. For 20 years, Terre de Liens has helped protect 330 farms, with 9,700 hectares of land transmitted, 4,400 members and 1,400 volunteers. A provision in French taxation would have made it possible to start the land protection project with sustained funding from the start, funds always remaining the crux of the matter, hence the importance of political and societal involvement. The organization Access To Land of which Terre de Liens is a part, carries out a similar mission but this time across all of Europe.

It remains to convince our politicians, because 15 years ago the Pronovost report following the Commission on the future of Quebec agriculture and agri-food was published, and few significant movements seem to have occurred despite their necessity.

According to this report from La Semaine verte who updates this report, 40% of the territory is still not under cultivation, we are therefore talking about green zoned territory which no longer produces food.

Time to change things

For Hubert Lavallée, we must make the leap from an individualist to collective model, because agricultural land is a common good which should not be used to enrich individuals or banks. We must accentuate the work at the societal level, that is to say rebuilding links of solidarity between producers and consumers, but also with all of society since our food affects absolutely everyone. Like the indigenous culture which worked for the following 7 generations, it is time to return to the service of mother earth rather than wanting to possess it. A significant cultural change is required.

Sometimes we see a nearby farm on our social media feeds asking for one-off help for a harvest day, in exchange for vegetables for example. Return to a circular economy where money is removed from the equation while allowing us to create, over time, relationships of proximity and friendship with the producers who feed us.

What follows is the development of empathy and a real knowledge of the reality of our small farms, their needs, their pitfalls, but also the benefits of having them nearby. And what a joy to be able to join them for celebrations, and share these nourishing foods produced with love and care. And from farm to farm, our entire supply chain is created over time.

For Stéphanie Wang, her highly publicized letter served to bring together a network of people interested in changing things and she tells me that an event is coming up in February 2024 with stakeholders in the field to be able to go more in-depth into this issue. , to explore what works while identifying obstacles. Watch the “ politics ” section of the Rizen website, their involvement is always relevant, as is that of Les Cocagnes , this very special agroecological collective farm project which hosts the Rizen farm among others for rent.

The Cocagnes country table

Getting involved in the sustainability of our land

And for those who are thinking about the sustainability of their land, Hubert Lavallée specifies that the smooth running of the creation of a FUSA depends on many factors, including fundraising or the chosen financing mechanism, and that this can take into account schedule terms between 1 and a half and 3-4 years probably. The larger the network of interested people, the better the chances of success. He suggests approaching organizations, businesses, and people in municipalities since it will be necessary to have trustees to then administer the trust. Hoping that one day soon, those who wish to create FUSAs will be the first to benefit from government assistance since it is work oriented solely towards our common good.

And after many years working within Protec-terre, Hubert Lavallée says: “there are around 2 million hectares of agricultural land in Quebec, we would have the means to protect them all. It would cost a few billion, but billions are put here and there, so it is a budgetary choice. The population and the government could preserve the resource and remove it entirely from the market. Isn't it time we gave ourselves the means to make this a societal choice? A statement that makes you dream and would undoubtedly be the sign of an extremely evolved society.

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