It’s tough to get through a news story today without reading the word “crisis.” COVID has been brutal on our public health and our economy. An alarming 230,000 British Columbians are currently out of work, with the impact hitting women and young people hardest. On top of this, the ongoing climate emergency threatens B.C.’s food security and environmental health.
Last week, the Business Council of B.C. (BCBC) released a wide-ranging economic recovery plan to help get our province back on its feet. I am proud to stand behind the plan because it focuses on what we need to do now to get people back to work and what we need to build to futureproof our economy. I believe companies in the innovation economy will be the key to addressing these crises and getting B.C. on the path to recovery. From my perspective as a scientist, tech founder and former policy maker, I am confident we can not only surmount these challenges but lead the world in doing so. So how can we do that and what do we need to focus on?
THE CLIMATE IMPERATIVE
Across the province, we’ve seen growing concerns over the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather events, such as recent wildfires and flooding have had catastrophic effects on B.C.’s agricultural sector and the profitability of our farmers and ranchers. Add COVID, the influx of a million more expected residents to B.C., our existing food system’s inability to meet dietary needs and climate goals to the mix, and we have a situation that requires immediate action. Climate change in agriculture is a serious issue for B.C. farmers and all of us who depend on them. Especially now.
From highlighting the fragility of our food systems to demonstrating our capacity for widespread systemic change, the pandemic has added greater urgency to our imperative to address the climate crisis with innovation. Our company is on a mission to reduce global synthetic pesticide loads 80 percent by 2030 while increasing yields and soil carbon—a key factor to slowing or even possibly turning back the clock on climate change, and we’re working with partners around the world to tackle this challenge. B.C. is home to the largest group of clean technology companies in Canada, a cluster of innovators that can make a major difference at home and around the world. We need to invest in and build on this strength.
INNOVATING OUR WAY TO RECOVERY
As the founder of a tech company focused on clean food and sustainable agriculture, I have seen the rapid scalability of B.C. innovation firsthand. Our company’s workforce has quadrupled since 2017. We now have a team of 135 people – and growing. It’s evidence that we can scale and grow our economy when we grow high-tech jobs.
As a founding member of the Digital Technology Supercluster, we have also witnessed how organizations that band together across industry, academia and public policy produce long-lasting change. These kinds of partnerships are force-multipliers that can grow great little ideas into world-changing ones. By backing this initiative and its deep collaboration, B.C.’s tech community can play an enormous role in driving job growth and innovation.
WE CAN LEAD THE WORLD
Amid these challenges, we have exciting opportunities to position B.C. for global leadership. For example, with less than a quarter of the farmland we have in B.C.’s Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR), the Netherlands has 52x our agricultural productivity and food exports per acre. If B.C. mobilized the power of our agricultural lands with agtech innovation, our research shows we could create over $500 billion for our economy while feeding our people and the world. And by focusing on regenerative farming through agtech and soil innovations in our 12 million acres of ALR, we could lead the world to better practices while pulling over 200 million tons of CO2e per year out of the atmosphere. By 2030, that could be over a billion tons and could contribute one-quarter of Canada’s total commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.
Today we are eating the planet to death, but we CAN eat it back to health. Regenerative agriculture evolves farming in a way that brings it back into alignment with the land, leaving it better and healthier with each year we farm, while increasing productivity and profitability for farmers. It turns agriculture into ground zero in the fight against climate change. We have much work to do to scale these approaches and we need innovation, technology and policy to support it. But with the right investments and technology, B.C. has an opportunity to bring our province together, build urban and rural jobs and the rural economy, and develop regenerative farming at the largest scale in the world.
CRISIS BREEDS INNOVATION
While these are difficult times, it’s important for companies on the forefront of discovery to understand that throughout history, pandemics and recessions have spurred incredible periods of innovation. The Black Death of the 1300’s broke Europe’s feudal system and gave way to employment contracts. Boston’s 1721 smallpox epidemic led to the birth of the free press. China’s Alibaba used the 2003 SARS quarantine to adapt to online retail, creating a continental powerhouse. The 2008 recession paved the way for disruptors like Airbnb and Uber.
Our current challenges present opportunities to transform teamwork, productivity and communication tools. Sectors including medicine, food and agriculture need us to build resilience and reimagine their future. By seizing this unique and calamitous moment, B.C.’s most innovative companies can take us from crisis to global leadership. I hope you will join me in supporting the plan that helps us get there. Find out more about the plan at StrongerTomorrowBC.com and write your local MLA to tell them why you support the plan. Let’s work to together to figure out solutions to build a stronger economy, a stronger province and a stronger future.
Karn Manhas is the CEO & founder of Vancouver-based Terramera, a global agtech leader fusing science, nature and artificial intelligence to transform how food is grown and the economics of agriculture.