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Ecologies of scale : socio-economic obstacles to sustainable agriculture in the Lower Fraser Valley, British Columbia, Canada Fraser, Evan David Gaviller

Abstract

This research asks: "what forces shape agriculture such that environmental problems persist on farms?" The hypothesis is that socioeconomic forces, combined with geography and technology, have created a "food system" that precludes good farm management. Secondary hypotheses are: (1) either government policies or global trade lead to environmentally damaging management practices. (2) insecure land tenure influences whether a farmer will invest in long-term management. These hypotheses are tested using data from the Lower Fraser Valley, a fertile region adjacent to Vancouver, Canada. Results show that rented fields have more annual crops and less grasslands, legumes, and grain than owned land. This has negative environmental implications. To test the role of international trade, data on farm practices were compared over time for traded versus governmentprotected commodities. Results show that environmental management on vegetable farms has improved as trade in these commodities has risen. These improvements are bought at the expense of the environment in the regions that B.C. trades with. Dairy and poultry farms, which are protected by the government, have grown more concentrated and cause serious environmental problems. However, these same changes have occurred in other regions of North America where farmers do not have the same type of protection. There are three overarching conclusions. (1) It is difficult to investigate large-scale abstract forces like the role of government programmes or global trade in isolation. These forces interact in surprising ways that can lead to bad management. (2) It is necessary to understand local environmental conditions and not to generalize the possible ecological consequences of forces like global trade based on aggregate data. (3) This research suggests that risk plays a significant role in determining good farm management. If farmers do not have secure land tenure, they will be at risk of losing their land and will not receive the benefits of good farm management. However, if the government protects farmers, farmers will be able to increase profits by externalizing environmental costs. Farmers must be able to farm in a sufficiently stable economic environment that they can plan into the future, but should not be so protected that they can damage the environment.

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