Promising future for the North.

September 3, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Doug Skeates

Northern Canada is a largely overlooked corner of the world. Unlike other northern regions as in Russia and Scandinavian countries, Canada’s primary development and the bulk of the nation’s population are located in close association with its adjacent market. With development focused on the economy, the country is urban-based with industry dependent on sources of labour to meet the needs of business. In the past, the commercial world, though dependent on the resources of the northern Boreal Forest, centred business decision-making on the financial interests of southern cities. In the process northern communities got left behind and particularly aboriginal communities.

Those living in the north are subject to high costs especially for food transported over long distances from the south. The short northern growing season restricts production of crops locally despite the many examples of successful agricultural systems in other parts of the world. A short video, “Need to Grow” outlines one measure of achieving year-round production of luxurious crops in a Montana experiment, focusing on a Green Power House using sound farming principles throughout the 12 months of the year. The system is self-sufficient producing its own electrical power and renewable soil management based on energy derived from forest waste. 

Years ago, a valuable lesson was learned in northern Ontario, a project of natural regeneration using a seed tree system.  A stand of outstanding white spruce in a seed year in the Pagwa area east of Longlac was cleared of trees other than those marked for regeneration.  Theoretically the main concern was exposing mineral soil for germination of falling seed.  With time constraints for seed fall, bulldozers were used to expose a soil surface.  The results were spectacular with over 50,000 seedlings per acre counted the following season. Unfortunately, very little growth occurred over subsequent years.  Finally, after ten or more years the ecosystem recovered with new undergrowth and the build-up of a new topsoil layer and a new forest ecosystem developed now consisting of trees over 60 feet tall.  The secret was not regeneration of trees but the development of a habitat capable of growing new forests.

Ontario’s Oak Ridges Moraine has been the greatest Canadian example of what can be achieved with sound land stewardship. Desert land, the result of poor land management, was rehabilitated by the establishment of new ecosystems. Land converted to marginal agriculture, was abandoned by farmers, reverting to municipalities for non-payment of taxes. Investment in new forests on much of the 300,000 acres, now the County Forest system, has been basic to rehabilitation of the region. The action taken by local and provincial authorities was the result of tree planting initiatives based on the development of 9 tree nurseries producing over 35 million seedlings annually (Two Billion Trees and Counting” John Bacher, 2011). Decisions made in the mid nineteenth century created regenerated forest ecosystems throughout Ontario, landscapes now providing ecological benefits throughout the province. Results of decisions made then are now proving effective in Canada’s war on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a climate-changing problem facing the planet worldwide.

Agricultural scientists, facing the need to increase food production in order to feed a rapidly rising global population, tend to promote the green revolution based on increased growth of plants.   However, many farmers reject the use of genetically modified plants, necessitating the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.

The development of new agricultural technology may have increased crop growth but those working the land are well aware that the result has been deterioration of natural productivity of the soil. Recent development of the Great Green belt of Africa, initiated primarily to control encroachment of the Sahara Desert, is showing signs of improved soil moisture which is increasing food production. Working with natural ecosystems has shown to help ensure more productive food production.

The project in Montana indicated the potential of natural processes to improve ecological conditions conducive for producing food even in harsh conditions. Certainly, it would be of considerable benefit for isolated communities to be able to move toward a degree of food self-sufficiency. Any development to minimize the costly transportation to rural and aboriginal forest communities across northern Canada have the potential to boost prosperity locally as well as benefitting the country as a whole.

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