The new year is a chance to take a fresh perspective on the possibilities for a better world. With millions of children dying every year of starvation or malnutrition, it is evident that what we are currently doing as far as Canadian food aid is not enough. But shifting government aid policy is providing a chance to pursue new opportunities in 2013 – both for those living in poverty and for Canada’s food and beverage sector.
A new direction
Canada’s foreign aid is shifting from focusing on poverty reduction to playing an active role in sustainable development through collaborations with the private sector. While the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) plans to continue its work with NGOs and multilateral institutions, it will now also increase collaborations with Canadian corporations, a philosophical shift from its past policies.
Critics worry that adding foreign policy considerations to the mix could detract from CIDA’s core mandate. But the government maintains that CIDA is part of Canadian foreign policy and therefore should be open to funding projects that involve Canadian corporations as long as the work helps alleviate poverty in the developing world.
Where do Canadian manufacturers fit in?
An expression of the government’s new approach is the new Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development. Its mandate is to build on Canadian leadership in natural resource management and deliver knowledge on regulation and oversight to help resource-rich developing countries create jobs and economic growth. Having managed CIDA’s Industrial Cooperation Programs in Thailand and Malaysia, which focused on Canadian food and ag manufacturer technology transfer collaborations with businesses in those countries, I believe that the same sustainable aid model should also be used in the food and agriculture manufacturing sector.
Building on our skills and international development commitments, CIDA could develop the Canadian International Institute for Food Manufacturing and Development. Canada’s considerable expertise in food and beverage processing could be used to help developing countries while strengthening our food manufacturing capabilities. Such an approach would help leverage corporate investments to bolster development goals, fulfilling an essential need. Canada is in a strong position to do this; as a recent MNP report undertaken for the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors clearly confirmed, the food and beverage processing sector is one of the largest and most vibrant manufacturing sectors in Canada, with wide-ranging and diverse “farm gate to consumer plate” capabilities. (View the report at http://www.aofp.ca/Uploads/File/mnp-economic-report-2.pdf)
Adapting the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program towards aid goals could mobilize food manufacturers to share CIDA’s interest in collaborating. SR&ED is a federal tax incentive program to encourage businesses to conduct research and development that will lead to new, improved or technologically advanced products or processes. By adapting it, Canadian companies undertaking qualified R&D to develop innovative agri-food products that can address developing countries’ food and beverage manufacturing needs, as specified by CIDA, could receive accelerated tax incentives. This could include developing innovative, fortified and therapeutic products to address malnutrition, which would provide the moral and commercial payback to meet both the goals of Canada’s aid policy and those of the food and beverage sector.
A recipe for aid and sector competitiveness
I agree with CIDA that aid and trade are not mutually exclusive. A CIDA initiative focusing on harnessing the capabilities of Canadian food manufacturers would broaden the understanding and support of CIDA’s new collaborative approach with the private sector. By working to harness the power of Canadian food companies and foster collaboration between business, government and NGOs, we can deliver sustainable opportunities in developing countries and build Canadian innovation, supply chains, exports and foreign joint venture capabilities – all of which Canada must do to maintain international competitiveness.
Together, we can make 2013 the year that Canada’s collaborative aid program mobilizes national food and beverage manufacturers to serve up sustainable development for the needy, while building capabilities in an increasingly complex global marketplace. It is a timely recipe that’s not only good for Canadians but will help those in need – certainly a new year’s resolution worth keeping.
Contact Andrew Raphael, director of Food and Ag Manufacturing, at Andrew.Raphael@mnp.ca or at (877) 688-8408.