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Cameron: How secure is Yukon’s food supply?

Our Yukon political correspondent, Kirk Cameron, on the recent closure of the Alaska Highway and food security in Whitehorse.
 
[dropcap_1]I[/dropcap_1]t took three days to run short!
 
Mudslides and a washout closed the Alaska Highway near Swift River between Watson Lake and Teslin in the southern reaches of Yukon. That was last Thursday. By Sunday, there was no fresh food and limited supplies of other food goods in Whitehorse grocery stores and restaurants, and next to no vehicle fuel in town (Whitehorse is a City of approximately 450 sq. kms., so fuel for transportation is a necessity for the majority).
 
Late Sunday, two local food stores leased one of Canada’s only privately owned Hercules heavy lift aircraft to transport fresh food and meats into the City from where resupply trucks were stranded in Watson Lake.
 
As I write, the round-the-clock efforts of highway crews will result in the opening of one lane arteries so that shipments and those stranded on the highway can continue on to Whitehorse.
 
This is not a desperate situation, as there are options for the continuation of supply into the territory’s Capital where over two thirds of the territory’s population resides. The roads to the American ports of Skagway and Haines remain open, and therefore if the Alaska Highway remained closed for an extended period, these options could be used to bring in supplies. And, there remains air transport if all road options are exhausted.
 
But, this event raises a very interesting question for Yukon residents, and I would argue for anyone living in northern communities. The question begged is just how much supply is available in northern communities for residents to rely on if there are extended shortages caused by either road closures as witnessed today, or by more expansive breakdown of the food supply chain in southern Canada?
 
The Yukon’s experience today would suggest we are far too close to the line for residents to be comfortable.
September 11, 2001 Whitehorse was severely challenged when two Korean 747s were redirected to the international airport; there was suspicion that they had been hijacked. The planes landed safely, but the panic and chaos created that morning revealed an astonishing incapacity of emergency measures systems to address events of this kind.
 
Today’s food shortage may be a useful “wake up” call for residents, and community leaders. We clearly are not prepared! The vulnerability of northern communities is evident, and efforts need to be made to ensure that plans are in place to address longer term shortages.
 
Photo credit: Tim Vo, using a creative commons license.

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  • ICNGD

    Food security in northern communities is definitely an issue that warrants immediate discussion. The University of Saskatchewan’s International Centre for Northern Governance and Development (ICNGD) is hosting a mini symposium on northern greenhouses as one tool to secure a healthy food supply in the North: July 18th, 2012 in Saskatoon. Email info.icngd@usask.ca for more info.

  • Kirk Cameron

    Discussion on local radio today, made light of the value of local production, the view stated that we are only just getting into growing season and thus production this year would not have helped the recent food shortage caused by the washouts.  This limited perspective overlooks the value of food production and storage that is possible when there is focus on two things: local production and preparation for supply chain disruption (short or long term).   I wish you great success with the Uof Sask symposium on northern greenhouses.  I hope you’ll be able to publish the results for the edification of all of us!   kirk cameron (the new Yukon blog guy….)

  • Heather Exner

    U of S’  International Centre for Northern Governance and Development and the UArctic Food Security Thematic Network are hosting a larger workshop on Nov 7-8 in Saskatoon: day one will focus on socio-economic perspectives; day two will examine the technologies that are up and coming that could provide a game changer (eg biomass, LEDs, advances in insulation, crop types, etc.).  We will be publishing guidelines for northern communities on establishing greenhouses as the workshop report.  Agenda is available here: [http://artsandscience.usask.ca/icngd/Workshop%20Agenda.pdf].