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Advancing agriculture

Memorial's role in Newfoundland and Labrador's food security

Research

By Melanie Callahan

Recently, the provincial government, along with partners in agriculture, launched 43 actions to double Newfoundland and Labrador’s food self-sufficiency and the number of people directly employed in the provincial agriculture sector.

Among those partners is Grenfell Campus, which has been identified as a key player in the initiative.

Dr. Ivan Emke, vice-president (Grenfell Campus), pro tempore, is part of the provincial working group established to move the agriculture industry forward.

Dr. Ivan Emke
Photo: Lori Lee Pike

“While we are a small province, there is always the need for more collaboration and understanding among partners, and this initiative aims to do that,” said Dr. Emke.

“The provincial government has made a commitment to increase food production, which means they need many partners to be involved.”

The 43 recommendations are mostly being led by the provincial government and include indications of how the industry will move forward.

Creating a network

There are a number of commitments that can potentially involve 40-60 researchers and graduate students across the university who are connected to agriculture, including biologists, horticulturists, chemists, environmental scientists, economists and those interested in food security and making health food choices.

Dr. Emke will work, along with others, to bring them together as a network.

Some of the initiatives include improving Crown land approval and lease processes; identifying land, slaughterhouse and livestock opportunities in Labrador; an evaluation of current financial programs and support for agriculture; and a review of legislation related to the agricultural sector and land lease policy.

Other initiatives include creating agreements to ensure the growth of the agrifoods industry, including secondary processing; providing post-secondary education in agriculture-related studies, and increasing research and development across the sector; and the development of a centre for agriculture and forestry development.

All actions included in the government’s work plan will be fully operationalized within 24 months.

Food’s value

Dr. Emke, as a researcher, is interested in how we take this inherent desire of people to grow food, legitimize it and recognize its value.

“There is also the need for policies around how we give agriculture land to farmers, for example, and we can provide expertise in this area,” he said.

“It’s not just determining how much fertilizer to put on the soil and what to grow in it, but it is about setting up marketing and distribution plans in order to sell our produce and determining how to change attitudes about where our food should come from.”

Dr. Natalia Prieto Vidal
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Natalia Prieto Vidal is a food quality and safety researcher at Grenfell’s Boreal Ecosystem Research Initiative (BERI). She is working to establish a functional food research program with an emphasis on natural or processed food that contains bioactive compounds — known to be beneficial for human health.

“An example of this kind of food is blueberries, which possess compounds with specific properties important for disease prevention,” said Dr. Vidal.

“Some areas of interest in this field are the development of food products with high nutritional value or of secondary processing value-added products, among others.”

Dr. Vidal’s work is an example of the research taking place at Grenfell Campus that can help the province reach its agricultural goals.

“If we continue in this line, we can generate a very successful functional food market in the province.” — Dr. Natalia Prieto Vidal

She says the research projects and the future plans of the Boreal Ecosystem Research Initiative are aligned with some of the province’s strategies and commitments to continue supporting the research and the development needs of the agriculture sector.

“If we continue in this line, we can generate a very successful functional food market in the province that will enhance the agriculture industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

BERI has already developed some projects in this line. Dr. Vidal points to a project that uses antioxidants extracted from native berries to improve the shelf life and sensory quality of natural soaps.


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