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Prairie Climate Resilience A policy study of climate change vulnerability and adaptation on the Canadian prairies. Henry David Venema, Director Sustainable Natural Resources Management, IISD Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with Harvey Hill, PFRA-AAFC Fikret Berkes, University of Manitoba

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Prairie climate resilience

Prairie Climate Resilience

A policy study of climate change vulnerability and adaptation on the Canadian prairies

Henry David Venema, Director

Sustainable Natural Resources Management, IISD

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


Harvey Hill, PFRA-AAFC

Fikret Berkes, University of Manitoba

Darren Swanson, IISD

With funding from NRCan’s Climate Change Action Fund

Outstanding global environmental problem millennium ecosystem assessment 2005
“Outstanding” Global Environmental ProblemMillennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005)

Nitrogen Flows

“The intense vulnerability of the 2 billion people living in

dryland agricultural regions to the loss of ecosystem

services, including water supply; and the growing threat

to ecosystems from climate change and nutrient pollution.”

Global Temperature


Hypothesis and agenda
Hypothesis and Agenda

  • Review climatologic, hydrologic and socio-economic stresses afflicting Prairie agriculture in Canada, and observe:

  • Prairie agriculture is not sustainable or resilient and is in need of the major policy innovations similar to those implemented during depression /dust-bowl in 1930s.

    • Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration and Canadian Wheat Board

  • Our objectives are to propose these policy innovations based on a current study - some details of which I’ll share.

  • Conclude with some comments on food security internationally and locally and important policy innovations.

The canadian prairies at the edge
The Canadian Prairies: At the Edge Vulnerabilities

“The Breadbasket of the World”

20% of the international wheat trade

  • Sources:

  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005

  • IWMI, 2004

Prairie climate resilience

Moisture Deficit 1961-1990 Vulnerabilities

Climate Change: Projected Moisture Deficit 2050 (CGCM1)

Are the canadian prairies resilient drought a long history of bad experience
Are the Canadian Prairies Resilient? Vulnerabilities Drought: A long history of bad experience

  • 1906;

  • 1936-38 (quarter million people displaced);

  • 1961;

  • 1976-77;

  • 1980;

  • 1984-85;

  • 1988;

  • 2001-2003 (“the worst ever?” $3.6 B Ag /$5.8 B GDP/ 41 000 jobs lost

Prairie climate resilience

Are the Canadian Prairies Resilient? Vulnerabilities2005 Flooding “unprecedented”

  • Alberta and Manitoba primarily affected

  • Final impacts on 2005 harvest not known

  • Preliminary estimates for Manitoba:

  • $700 M Ag loss/ > $ 1B GDP loss projected.

Prairie climate resilience

Are the Canadian Prairies Resilient? VulnerabilitiesNutrients and Aquatic Ecosystems

Prairie climate resilience

Are the Canadian Prairies Resilient? VulnerabilitiesFarm Income

  • “an indisputable fact is that at the national level, farm incomes have been decreasing in real terms, whether measured since 1970, 1960, or 1950, and whether measured as net cash income, or as net realized income after accounting for depreciation of assets.”

  • (Canadian Agri-food Policy Institute, 2005)

  • Transportation subsidy lost (Crow rate)

  • Commodity/input prices

  • Floods/drought

  • BSE

A resilience theory framework berkes et al 2003
A Resilience Theory Framework Vulnerabilities[Berkes et al,2003]






Capacity to

adapt to change



These are the policy dynamics we’re trying to understand and influence



This is what we (think we can) measure

Prairie climate resilience
Climate Variability Vulnerabilities(a surrogate for “Change/Stress/Shock”)Growing Season Precipitation Coefficient of Variation

Estimating adaptive capacity after smit et al 2001
Estimating Adaptive Capacity Vulnerabilities(after Smit et al, 2001)

  • Determinants

Site selection for resilience analysis
Site Selection for Resilience Analysis Vulnerabilities

Climate Exposure

Adaptive Capacity

‘hotspot’ regions

for Resilience Analysis based on narratives from farmers and agricultural organizations

Initial findings
Initial Findings Vulnerabilities

  • Early validation of the research framework; differentiation of coping strategies evident as a function of relative exposure to climate variability

  • Major structural issues with the existing agricultural support programs that deter adaptation

Comments on food security
Comments on Food Security: Vulnerabilities

  • Poor and erratic yields on the prairies in recent years from climate stresses have had no discernible influence on commodity prices - remain low.

  • Can we infer that the climate vulnerability of “the breadbasket of the world” will not impact global food security - commits the error of equating low commodity prices with absence of hunger.

  • A more proximate form of food insecurity:

    • “Agricultural operations in the prairies are in crisis mode… a combination of disasters including but not limited to dropping commodity prices, increasing input prices, misaligned crop insurance policies, and extreme climate events has decreased household income to $6700/year (2002-04)” source: KAP/APAS/WRAP

Prairie climate resilience

Voices from the farm: Manitoba 2005 Vulnerabilities

  • "They say I've expanded, I've diversified, I've done everything I possibly can -- and I still can't make it,"

  • "All through my youth we had our bad years and the good years but there was always a light at the end of the tunnel -- things will get better. I don't see that light anymore,"

  • "I don't know of any products that we can raise in Western Canada that they can't raise just as well somewhere else in the world," he said. "We've got to be producing what is wanted by the world because it doesn't want our current production,"

  • there's little argument that farming has been in a perpetual state of crisis for decades because of one reason or another. Apparently, the type of farming we do here has a weak immune system; it catches a cold every time the environment changes.

  • Some have suggested farmers have more value to society as park wardens or environmental stewards than food producers.

  • . …sees high oil prices and Kyoto accord as potential allies, "If I can grow nothing but energy on my farm, I will be very happy indeed. If we reforest Western Canada, you won't see me crying, you'll see me learning about lumber."

Towards prairie resilience learning from the millenium ecosystem assessment
Towards Prairie Resilience: Learning from the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

  • Agricultural Watershed Governance

    • Decades long, expensive and decentralized process (analogs: Rural Electrification, Rural Telecoms) - needs stable funding through inter, and intra-sectoral transfers

    • Require much research on economic instruments and federal co-funding thereof / federal leadership on interprovincial watersheds

  • Ecological Goods and Services

  • (focus: Kyoto/bioenergy/Organics/SWC/ )

    • Organic Transition Programs

      • Supports higher farm income;

      • lower input costs (energy!); SWC, carbon sequestration

      • (Mitigation / Adaptation Nexus of Climate Policy)

      • greater flexibility and support from the CWB/MCIC positive

    • Kyoto Compliance

      • Canada has a large liability, design of our domestic offset program is still incomplete; big unrealized potential for riparian/green cover EGS

      • federal leadership on bioenergy procurement.