Case studies

This section reports ongoing research projects in southern Brazil and the Northwest Territories in Canada. Both projects are part of a Canadian partnership, FLEdGE (Food: Locally Embedded. Globally Engaged) funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The partnership includes 89 organizations and 132 individuals and enables knowledge sharing opportunities between partners.

In both Brazil and the NWT, research was initiated at the invitation of the communities. In the NWT participants included active land users and harvesters, community Band Council members and elders. In Brazil, community participants included: small-scale erva-mate farmers, local representatives of family farmers’ unions, researchers from national and regional agricultural research/outreach agencies and universities, and non-governmental organizations. Information was gathered using participatory action research approaches so that research responds to the needs and visions of communities and adds to local capacity based on community defined goals. As appropriate, the research projects used on-the-land camps, oral history interviews and farm visits, focus groups, community meetings, and/or interviews to gather information. In both projects, the work builds on long-standing embedded relationships between the researchers and communities.

Traditional food systems: Canada’s Northwest Territories

Kakisa, located in the Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT), is home to the Ka'a’gee Tu First Nation (KTFN). This small Dene community has a strong link to the surrounding land, lakes, and water that make up their traditional territory. The land is a source of cultural and spiritual wellbeing, and is the basis of the community’s food system, which continues to be based on subsistence harvesting — hunting, fishing, and gathering. Like many communities across the northern regions of Canada, there are concerns regarding the impacts of climate change and development pressures on the health of the land, waters, and animals. With communities across Canada’s north experiencing alarmingly high rates of food insecurity, climate change is another stressor on an already compromised system (Council of Canadian Academies 2014). A research partnership between the KTFN and researchers from Wilfrid Laurier University started in 2014 with a project to examine the impact of climate change on the community’s food system, the access and availability of traditional foods, and explore opportunities to build a better food system. Community members described changes in weather, water, and animal distributions, but also more uncertainty and risk associated with being on the land and harvesting traditional foods. As part of a participatory action research approach, the community was able to identify several key projects and initiatives to increase access to and availability of affordable and healthy foods for everyone. This community vision of a more sustainable food system includes: fostering stronger relationship between youth and elders; increased access to healthy foods, and increased stewardship of the environment. Overall, community members in Kakisa. identified reestablishing connections to the land and each other, but with the addition of modern tools and infrastructure as the basis of health and sustainable food system moving forward (Spring et al. 2018).

However, identifying what needs to be done and building the community’s vision for their food system are two different things. Community members face many challenges, and many of these were captured as part of ongoing collaboration with the community focusing on identifying what barriers are limiting the ability to achieve their desired food system. Research in Kakisa uses a modified Community Capital Framework (CCF) to describe community food systems in terms of available or depleting capitals (Spring et al. 2018). The CCF is based on seven dimensions of capital contained within a community: natural, social, cultural, political, built, financial, and human. In the CCF. as interpreted here, the capitals are viewed as overlapping systems that interact with one another and can be used to create capitals or resources that contribute to healthy, vibrant communities, economies, and ecosystems (Emery and Flora 2006; Flora et al. 2004). This approach is compatible with other emerging definitions of food systems, including complex adaptive systems (Stroink and Nelson 2013), the sustainable rural livelihoods framework (Scoones 2009) and systems of systems (Blay-Palmer et al. 2016; Hipel et al. 2010) and are defined by place and local circumstances (Marsden 2012).

Many projects that have been implemented in Kakisa over the past few years have built on the community’s social capital and experience working with a variety of organizations. For example, the community expressed a great deal of interest in growing food. Using connections in the region, the Northern Farm Training Institute, a local organization that demonstrates the feasibility of farming in the NWT, has helped to facilitate food growing workshops and planting gardens with the local school for the past few years. Although there are some issues with community participation, lack of knowledge of food growing and history of both good and bad experiences in growing food, the community is committed to having food growing as part of their food system and as a way to rely less on food imported from the south that is expensive and tends to be highly processed so unhealthy (Simba and Spring 2017). But with gardens and other initiatives, this small community of approximately 50 people lacks capacity to carry out much of their vision for their food system. Graduate students and researchers have been able to fill some of this capacity by contributing to grant writing, facilitating on-the-land camps that connect youth and elders, and mapping and recording traditional knowledge and stories from elders as per the community’s vision (Kok 2020). These projects have built social, cultural, and human capitals, which are important parts of the food system, but do not tackle some of the more important issues facing the community.

Kakisa lacks political capital in terms of local decision-making over resources, which is a key capital of the food system. Located in the Dehcho region of the NWT, there is currently no comprehensive land claim agreement in place in the region, the community has limited ways it can have a say in, and protect, their land. The KTFN Band Council is responsible for advocating on behalf of the community but is limited due to the size of the community, with few community members able to attend the numerous meetings in the region. The community works closely with organizations, communities, and government in the region but often lacks the regional organization mandated as part of land claim agreements to act on behalf of their community. One option that the KTFN has been pursuing for years is obtaining protected areas status for their traditional lands, a designation that would ensure the land is locally-managed to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem health, establish a land management authority, and protect traditional land uses (NWT Protected Area Strategy Advisory Committee 1999). The KTFN allocates available capitals, including their time (human), social capital, and financial resources, to establish their rights to oversee the management of their traditional territory' in the hopes of protecting their lands for future generations (Spring 2018).

In Kakisa, often conversations about food systems focus on what can be done with the capitals that exist in the community, and what can be achieved through partnerships with other institutions and organizations. The community is happy to see some of the successes and programs scaled out to regional levels to see other communities become engaged in similar food systems initiatives. This is a bottom-up approach that involves working together and sharing knowledge with others as part of the next steps of many of the projects being implemented. But that approach is dependent on the availability of capitals required, not to mention interest and relationships with partners. Having policies in place to support the community's vision would greatly impact the current food system. The community is allocating so much of its available resources to creating the frameworks for protection and stewardship of their lands, supporting on-the-land learning and sharing of traditional knowledge to support the next generation of harvester. Stewardship could see harvesters and land uses supported as guardians, or environmental monitors of their traditional territories, protecting the land while bringing food home to be shared with the community. What has been done through this innovative partnership between the community and academic partners has created the capacity to slowly build these resources, often through competitive funding opportunities. But imagining what could be accomplished for community food systems in the NWT through national adoption of rights-based conventions could provide transformational reference points.

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