Ronald Wright put it best when he said:
Don’t build on your agricultural land. Don’t build on your agricultural land. Don’t build on your agricultural land.
British Columbia took this message to heart back in 1973, and established the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) as a measure to protect valuable farmland and to encourage farming. Prior to the establishment of the ALR, a whopping 4,000-6,000 hectares per year was being lost to encroaching development. Had it not been enacted, it’s estimated that 80 percent of the agricultural land in our region would have been lost. The ALR currently covers approximately 4.7 million hectares of land, or just less than 5 percent of BC’s total land base. This crucial land base has a tremendous impact on our region’s culture, environment, economy and food security.
The ALR has faced a number of challenges over the years, but it may currently be facing its greatest challenge yet. Since last year’s provincial election, the government has begun discussions about overhauling the ALR. One of the proposed changes would be to free up land in northern and eastern BC in an effort to encourage economic development. There are also rumours that the BC Oil and Gas Commission will be given more control over the ALR (they currently have the authority to exclude ALR land for oil and gas extraction and pipeline construction), placing greater priority on economic development than on agriculture and food security. In addition, the Agricultural Land Commission (the ALR’s independent regulating authority) may be put under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture. Such a move would make decisions regarding the ALR subject to political whim. All these measures seem to point to one thing – the weakening of the ALR. If we weaken the ALR, we may risk losing it forever.
It’s time to speak up for our agricultural land and farmers! If you want to stand up for food security, you can partner with BC Food Systems Network to host an ALR event in your community, check out the Farmland Protection Coalition website (they have a list of regional events), or attend the Food for the Future! Family Day Rally at the BC Legislature on February 10. Decision makers will be deciding the future of the ALR soon, so they need to hear from you. Here’s a video to get you pumped up and excited: