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Computers used to boost food sustainability

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Computer model can help improve the production of such crops as corn. 

Computer model can help improve the production of such crops as corn. REUTERS

Kwantlen Polytechnic University researchers are working on a program that would help municipal governments figure out what to do to produce more food locally — so the region can be as independent as it can from imported grub.

There are more than three dozen people working on this, from advisors at Fraser Health Authority to research collaborators in the University of the Fraser Valley, over the course of three years.

And according to Kent Mullinix, principal investigator and director for the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at KPU, much of the work to date has focused on a computer model that works to figure out what needs to be done to reach sustainability goals.

“We want a jurisdiction to say, ‘We want to maximize or optimize production of X Y and Z. What’s our capacity to do that based on our natural resources and other objectives?’” he said on Monday.

“Through this model we can do what we call ‘what-if’ analysis. What if we ate different? Or what if we imported, or didn’t import, grain? What if we chose to balance nitrate production with nitrate need? What if we wanted to reduce GHG emissions? To improve habitat on farmland?”

So far, the research has received funding of close to $800,000, from foundations, local partners and interested municipalities like Burnaby, North Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Langley, New West, Squamish and White Rock.

“We have ... relegated agriculture and food systems largely to the provincial government and they are largely focused on commodity and export agriculture and food systems,” Mullinix said.

“Our big objective has been to create awareness at the municipal government level and facilitate engagements. Get them to ask the questions on how to think about this — their role in advancing food system sustainability.”