By David Natcher, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Food Security, Professor, University of Saskatchewan
In collaboration with Yang Yang and Jill Hobbs, University of Saskatchewan; Kristin Hansen, Florent Govaerts, Silje Elde, Ingrid Kvalvik, Bjørg Helen Nøstvold and Rune Rødbotten, Nofima; Sigridur Dalmannsdottir, Hilde Hallan and Eivind Uleberg, Nibio; Ólafur Reykdal, Jón Árnason, Páll Gunnar Pálsson, Rakel Halldórsdóttir, Óli Þór Hilmarsson, Gunnar Þórðarson and Þóra Valsdóttir, Matis
In 2016, the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) endorsed The Arctic as a Food Producing Region research project. Involving research teams from Iceland, Norway, Canada, Greenland and Russia, the objective was to assess the potential for increased production and added value of food from the Arctic, with the overarching aim of improving food security and enhancing the social and economic development of Arctic communities.
While some methodological latitude was exercised by each country, they were guided by a common set of questions. What is the status and potential for various food production opportunities in the Arctic? What are the added values of these products when marketed by their special qualities and unique Arctic origin? And what conditions are required for the Arctic to be a sustainable food producing region?
Following two years of research, the results indicate that there are considerable opportunities for commercial food production in the Arctic, both for export and for meeting local food needs. Food industries are producing large volumes of commodities that are culturally compatible with indigenous and local food preferences and also have high export value. There are, however, considerable variations in actual and potential production volumes between the Arctic nations, species and product groups. These differences will have a large effect on product innovation, value chain development, and the marketing strategies chosen by producers as a whole. For example, whereas limited infrastructure and high rates of food insecurity are formidable challenges for Greenland and Canada, marketing access, lack of raw materials, skilled workforce and climate change are challenges shared by all.
These challenges notwithstanding, there are opportunities for increased food production in Arctic regions given the increasing local and global demand for high-quality foods. New opportunities include growth in agricultural production to meet local needs, while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of transportation. Iceland, Norway and Canada have the advantage of adding value to their products by further processing and product development. This has been the case in northern Canada where the production of prepared or value-added foods has been increasing by approximately 18,000 tonnes per year since 2000 – an increase of 384%. The continued growth of the tourism industry could also become important for the food-related economy in the Arctic.
The Arctic is an important food producing region, but this project has shown that it is not meeting its full potential, either in terms of satisfying local food needs or maximizing its export potential. In response, the SDWG has endorsed Phase II of the research which will explore the opportunities for establishing an Arctic Foods Innovation Cluster (AFIC). The objective of the AFIC will be to create added value for Arctic communities by connecting northern entrepreneurs, southern-based investors, research centers, businesses and bio-technology developers who have knowledge and interest in Arctic food industries. Through these linkages, new opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurial development will be gained, while helping to meet the needs of Arctic communities into the future.