Agroforestry Community Gardens as a Sustainable Import-Substitution Strategy for Enhancing Food Security in Remote First Nations of Subarctic Ontario, Canada
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The high prevalence of food insecurity experienced by remote First Nation (FN) communities partially results from dependence on an expensive import-based food system that typically lacks nutritional quality and further displaces traditional food systems. In the present study, the feasibility of import substitution by Agroforestry Community Gardens (AFCGs) as socio-ecologically and culturally sustainable means of enhancing food security was explored through a case study of Fort Albany First Nation (FAFN) in subarctic Ontario. Agroforestry is a diverse tree-crop or tree-livestock agricultural system that has enhanced food security in the developing world, as low input systems with high yields of diverse food and material products, and various ecological services. Four study sites were selected for biophysical analysis: two Salix spp. (willow)-dominated AFCG test plots in an area proposed by the community; one “no tree” garden control test plot; and one undisturbed forest control test plot. Baseline data and a repeatable sampling design were established to initiate long-term studies on the productive capacity of willow AFCGs as a means to enhance food security in subarctic FN communities. Initial soil and vegetative analysis revealed a high capacity for all sites to support mixed produce with noted modifications, as well as potential competitive and beneficial willow-crop interactions. Identification of barriers to food security and local food production in FAFN revealed a need for a locally-run Food Security Program (FSP) in partnership with the AFCGs to provide the personnel, knowledge and leadership necessary to increase local food autonomy and local food education and to manage the AFCG as a reliable food supply. Continued research on AFCGs and the FSP may allow wide-scale adoption of this strategy as an approach to enhance community food security and food sovereignty in remote FNs across Canada. An integration of conventional crops and native species in the AFCGs is recommended as a bicultural approach to enhance social, cultural and ecological resiliency of FN food systems. As an adaptable and dynamic system, AFCGs have potential to act as a more reliable local food system and a refuge for culturally significant plants in high-latitude FN socio-ecological systems, which are particularly vulnerable to rapid cultural and ecological change.