Quality Saskatchewan ... A program for a better tomorrow!
Applying NGA Principles to future NGA government policies (An essay by Gerald Regnitter, prepared for discussion within the NGA.)
BACKGROUND: Among the fastest growing sectors in the agricultural market place are certified organically grown food products. While this is a growing and premium market in Saskatchewan and Canada, it is even more so in other parts of the world. Health and environmentally-conscious consumers are demanding proof that their food is healthy and organically produced. Being able to do so through recognized certification programs is seen as an ever growing option in a stressed and distressed agricultural industry.
Many citizens of the world have become suspicious about the production practices behind many consumer products, from wood products to shoes and clothing, from pineapple and bananas to coffee and other food items. Consumers have organized boycotts of major brand names that make their products in overseas sweatshops or by child labour. The impact of First World purchasing patterns can influence the experience of Third World growers and labourers.
Where certification programs used to only refer to product safety or minimal quality levels, now more and more world consumers are demanding certification programs that prove the item in question was developed in a morally, and environmentally responsible manner. Wood product manufactures need to prove that the forest practices that started the production chain are environmentally sustainable and socially responsible operations. The international Forest Stewardship Council, which is currently establishing Canadian norms, is an example of this growing trend.
Consumers demand this certification as a condition of purchase, and having such a certification can often assure a niche in the marketplace and even a premium price for the product. Business interests in all parts of the world are increasingly seeking to be recognized by these certification programs because they know it will enhance their business success. When basic human ethics and socially responsible attitudes are lacking, the pressure to realize greater corporate profits are forcing some corporations to do the right thing!
Some will remember the fight of farm workers in California to organize and obtain fair working conditions, and the boycott of California grapes and other produce in the 1960's. There were the programs to boycott produce from Chile while it was ruled by a brutal dictator, Pinochet, or the boycott of South African goods during the apartheid years. And there was a less successful campaign to boycott Kraft products because of unfair practices in that company's dealing with dairy producers during the 1970's. All of these things point to the impact of an increasingly informed and morally sensitive consumer who wants to be part of the solution, not part of a global problem.
Much alarm has been generated by recent developments that come with globalization of the larger economy, and its all-pervasive impact on every level of our economy. Concerns about GMO's and their introduction into agriculture and their pollution of the agricultural environment are growing daily. Citizens are demanding that governments protect them from the unbridled practices of global corporations.
These illustrations are given, not to express a doom and gloom scenario for the future, but to suggest that the problems that have raised public awareness also present us with an unprecedented opportunity to create a new vision for the economy and society of our Province of Saskatchewan. A PLAN FOR A " QUALITY SASKATCHEWAN" ECONOMY
Currently the Department of Industry and Resources has a plan to promote Saskatchewan Products by allowing a manufacturer or producer to use a "Saskatchewan Made" logo on products that meet a set level of Saskatchewan input in the form of materials or labour. While attractive, the logo is little known and little used and only assures a level of Saskatchewan content, and is not an assurance of quality.
A comprehensive program of identifying Saskatchewan manufactured products, food and agricultural items, mining and technology products, tourist and other services , and even Saskatchewan Communities as "QUALITY SASKATCHEWAN" should be developed.
The government of Saskatchewan should launch and promote a comprehensive plan to make the name "Saskatchewan" synonymous with high quality products, high quality experiences, and high quality communities.
Saskatchewan producers of agricultural and manufactured products would be encouraged to meet high product quality standards, and provide certified assurance that production was done in environmentally and socially responsible and sustainable manner. Saskatchewan institutions would be encouraged to meet high standards of program delivery, and supported in their efforts to meet standards of ever greater excellence. Saskatchewan communities would be supported in their efforts to provide services and community living experiences that make them healthy and desirable places for people of all ages to live.
Quality Saskatchewan would make use of quality, internationally recognized certification schemes that already exist. Examples are the Forest Stewardship Council's Forest Products certification process and the certified organic food and farm programs . Quality certification status should include areas of eco-tourism, other tourism supports, ‘agri-industry' operations such as value-added food processing, and all areas of intensive livestock operations. Mining and other resource extraction industries should be certified for their safety practices, support of the local community, and environmentally responsible extraction and processing practices. Education and training institutions, and other elements of the Saskatchewan economy and Saskatchewan experience should be rewarded for acquiring recognition for programs and services of excellence.
Quality Saskatchewan should become synonymous with environmentally responsible and sustainable practices, with respect for and support of local communities and local economies, become synonymous with high standards of industrial safety and good labour-management relations, become synonymous with centres of excellence in professional schools and training institutions, become synonymous with certified and accredited health care facilities and other aspects of our social order.
Quality Saskatchewan would not just signify Saskatchewan content, but also high quality that over time would acquire a prized national and international reputation. While business and institutions would see economic benefits of a quality and recognized certification program, government policies and programs need to be developed to encourage and support the transition to a worthy and growing Quality Saskatchewan program. Initial costs to bring all of this about can be offset by tax incentives or rebates. ( e.g. Farm support payments would be directed in large part to farms that are working toward or already meeting certification standards, and not to farming operations that fail to meet such standards. The federal government's new program to support the development of "environmental plans" for farms might be something in this direction.)
To make a Quality Saskatchewan product or Quality Saskatchewan experience competitive in the larger market place, a customer of such a product could be given a direct or indirect benefit for supporting the higher cost item or program. (The computer software and hardware industry has long used such practices with their rebate programs that offer incentives to purchase certain products.)
If Quality Saskatchewan were to be known to refer to products and services, and to the quality of communities and community life in Saskatchewan, we would have created something to attract people to live in smaller and larger "Quality" communities.
A Quality Saskatchewan community would need to meet certain standards with regard to municipal services, community facilities, and quality of life factors. A healthy rural economy that supports farm families could do much to support and sustain quality rural communities as well. Currently the United Nations ranks countries and cities as good places for people to live, and Saskatchewan communities meet these high standards. Clean environments, good medical and education services and good food and safe water are factors used in these rankings. This is seen to be important in attracting people and industry to locate here. We know that educational institutions that operate "centres of excellence" attract the best and the brightest and so become even better. We know that agriculture, industry , forestry, local communities and tourist operations, working together with a common vision and goal to create a quality
Quality Saskatchewan product and experience will be more successful than would be the case when working alone. Instead of working independently and often at cross purposes, these diverse sectors of our community would realize that cooperation will best bring about common successes. Such broad ranging cooperation, inspired by the goal of realizing a Quality Saskatchewan status, will restore the vitality of the cooperative spirit that sustained and nourished early Saskatchewan society. Cooperation between industry, municipalities, and the farming sector to ensure air free of agricultural pollution [e.g. stubble burning], industrial air pollution, effective animal waste management plans, strict control of surface and underground water supplies and others, will do a lot to ensure the quality environment that so many people want to find.
Not only would an effective Quality Saskatchewan program help our economy grow and diversify and decentralize, but it would sustain the health and quality of life for current residents of Saskatchewan, and for those who would want to join us in such an enhanced living experience. This would include our own children and grandchildren who now cannot see their futures in Saskatchewan.
An effective Quality Saskatchewan program would take time to develop and would require a long range vision for a different and better society. Saskatchewan has been the leader for the rest of the country and other parts of the world when Saskatchewan leaders shared such vision with the people. We saw this in the evolution of producer and consumer co-operatives. We saw this in the creation of a public health care system.
The New Green Alliance of Saskatchewan has people with a vision for a better tomorrow. Let us clarify that vision, and then share it with the people of Saskatchewan who can make that vision for tomorrow happen just as the people of Saskatchewan have done in the past!
... "MUST READ" REFERENCES Agriculture Canada recently released its Agricultural Policy Framework which proposes implementation of points of agreement from the Ministers Meeting of June 2001, in addition to other things. This policy release is especially significant with regard to the proposal to create national environmental planning schemes for Canadian farms. It also proposes the creation of a "branding" (certification) process to give recognition to Canadian food products to give international recognition for quality and safety, etc. Check this link and be sure to read the ‘backgrounder" item as well as all 5 sections that make up this policy statement. http://www.agr.gc.ca/cb/apf/index_e.html In this information there is reference to HACCP standards to be employed by Canada.
To get background on these food standards check this link: http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/haccp.html