Researcher puts a dollar figure on Nunavut’s country food harvest

“Hidden economy” worth $143 million annually

Paris Kaludjak lays out strips of caribou meat to make mikku (dried meat) on a table outside her family’s cabin near Arviat in 2018. A McGill University researcher is looking at the economic value of Nunavut country food. (Photo courtesy of Paris Kaludjak)

By Elaine Anselmi

HALIFAX—Why can’t we talk about Nunavut’s locally harvested food in the same way we talk about natural resources?

Duncan Warltier, a PhD candidate at McGill University, put that question to northerners and northern researchers gathered for a talk on sustainable harvesting at the ArcticNet conference in Halifax on Dec. 2, while presenting the preliminary results of his research project on Nunavut’s local food economy.

His study looked at the nutritional value of country food through the energy and protein it contains. Based on that nutritional value, and using cost data from the Nutrition North program, Warltier estimated a dollar figure for the hunted and harvested foods.

He also used information from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to calculate the volume of harvested meat in Nunavut. It showed that 135 kilograms of meat are harvested per Nunavut resident, per year. That equals about 5 million kilograms per year across the territory.

Putting together the value of this food and the volume of it, he concluded that the equivalent of $143 million dollars per year are generated within the local food system.

“This is currently a hidden economy,” Warltier said.

Where this is important, he said, is in recognizing how much local foods, and hunters, contribute. It illustrates the financial impact a loss of local food would have.

If there was no hunting at all in Nunavut, there would be a $143-million food bill to make up, he said.

Warltier looked at the option of replacing a local food, such as Arctic char, with chicken or canned tuna. The protein and caloric value of the store-bought foods fell far below what was hunted locally.

As development projects are considered for the territory, with associated impacts on wildlife, this value could play a role in Inuit impact and benefit agreements.

Similar research, measuring the value of local food has been done, Warltier said. In general, it has valued local food at a much lower level than his own findings, which are based on nutritional value.

As well, he sees his formula as an accessible tool for negotiating. “It might help to allow those systems get entered into policy,” he said.

He used all publicly available data and information to put a price on Nunavut’s food system. Next, he plans to apply this equation in Nunavik.

He said it could be easily replicated by any interested group.

“My hope is to propose an easy, transparent system for valuing local food systems,” he said. “If I could envision a future for this work, it is empowering communities.”

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Guy on

    $143 million sounds about right. The last time the economic value of harvested animals was calculated was 1999-2000 and at that time its was estimated at about $30 million.

    • Posted by Re-inventing the wheel on

      This is not new.

      This kind of research has been done on and off for years. Professor George Wenzel at McGill did a lot of work in this area many years ago, estimating the replacement value of country food.

      The Nunavut Wildlife Harvest Study done 2004 had similar estimates. Doesn’t hurt to do an update though.

      • Posted by My guess is … on

        My guess is it’s one of Wenzel’s student.

      • Posted by My guess is … on

        My guess is it’s one of Wenzel’s students.

  2. Posted by Sustainability guy on

    But how sustainable is this reliance on country food? Suppose Nunavut’s population doubles in the next few decades. Can the number of animals really keep pace? We already have disappearing caribou herds now!

    • Posted by Leonard Netser on

      If we revive and adopt ancient hunting and fishing regulations we would give the resources an opportunity to replenish their numbers each birthing season. Particularly caribou. The animals can regenerate properly under good management and feed many people.

    • Posted by Edward Stanley on

      This is the key point, farmed food has one benefit, the needs for the population can be managed. Further to the question is eventual eating of animals which are not suitable for consumption. Finally on the other side, the food on the shelves ends up expiring. A solution might include processing caught food at a centralized facilties in each community. This would create jobs and allow for estimates of the dwindlnd of supplies or surpluses.. that said the caribou has been indirectly stocked and i imagine char is as well.

      • Posted by Arcticchar on

        More industrialization of country foods is a failure to understand food security and more importantly food sovereignty!

    • Posted by armchair on

      You sound like a Gov’t employee. But, but, but….

    • Posted by ima on

      This report a good report, it finally put a value in country food which has not been properly valued. Don’t be a nay sayer, don’t be a lethargic person that can’t see that this is an opportunity for Inuit to take charge of their own resources. This can help elevate poverty for a lot of Inuit that cannot or refuse to participate in the wage economy. As Inuit we poverty was not part of our culture until we were force to move into communities. We helped each other even with the lazy individual. I for one commend the researcher and I hope the Government of Nunavut that is suppose to represent Inuit will learn from this report and develop programs and policy for hunters. And don’t say anything about hand outs it a way of to get out of poverty for most people.

    • Posted by bob on

      It can be efficient and sustainable. We aren’t talking about just living solely on country food. Combine that with community greenhouses, home green houses, Amazon, and an improved Nutrition North approach it would make a huge difference.

  3. Posted by Andrew Hammond on

    Something that someone may also light to research and add to this study is a carbon footprint analysis. Imagine the cost for the same amount of nutritious food had to be flown/barged into the communities. Hunters are amazing on so many level in this area of Canada.

  4. Posted by a on

    Extracting those consumption numbers for those who eat minimal or no country meat means that we harvest around .5 Kg for each person to consume each day. Sounds like nearly a full belly for all – which is not the case.

    I don’t know of many infants or small children who consume .5 kg of meat per day. 30% of the people in Nunavut are under the age of 10. Reducing for their consumption yields another .2 Kg for the rest. The sick and elderly yield a bit more for the big consumers. I’d round to .75 kg per person over the age of 10. Now that does sound like a full belly.

    For a rough estimate, we’d collectively spend $400,000,000 on store-bought food in Nunavut (not including groceries like toothpaste and toilet paper, nor restaurant food)

    Sincerely, I believe, that without any compromise to the wealthy (no additional taxes or wealth redistribution), with minimal redistribution of country-harvested food and with greatly enhanced food-literacy education, we could eliminate food-insecurity in Nunavut with one year.

  5. Posted by Putuguk on

    I think this researcher needs a bit more imagination in thinking of possible applications for this research. All developments already have wildlife compensation agreements. The provisions of these agreements are rarely, if ever used. Properly designed and regulated development simply does not generate significant adverse affects on country food production by Inuit.

    The people who really need to take notice of the value of the harvest is the government. Over the past 20 years, the amount of support to hunters has declined as our population has greatly increased. No more community harvester assistance program. No more outpost camp program. Cuts to community freezers. No more fuel tax rebate. Things like this while food insecurity grows.

    If you want to work towards something, the first step is measuring it. GN, even though responsible for wildlife, poverty and the economy has not measured this. This conveniently lets them off the hook because there is nothing by which to determine their success or failure as a responsible government. It is pretty shocking that it has fallen to an independent researcher to calculate this amount.

    GN, should not the goal be to at least maintain this $143M value? Is it feasible to increase this value to say, $200M? What programs should be cancelled, created, or expanded to increase or maintain this value? Should this value be at least some proportion of our total food imports, whatever that amount is?

    All important policy questions without any answers.

  6. Posted by Al Saunders on

    Already been done…about 30 years ago. But guess it’s time for an update.

  7. Posted by Jaav Haanta on

    I formerly lived in Rankin Inlet, NU, and feel that the food harvested from the land is excellent (Country food). That said, there are a lot of Inuit that cannot hunt in response to poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse. These are the people who are starving. If everyone would look after everyone like a community should….. there would be no food shortage.

    It would be great (and easy) to blame this on Government and us fat-belied, bushy eyebrowed folks.

    Don’t do that.

    Jeff Hunter

  8. Posted by Papefr Name on

    Carbon foot print is an interesting idea. Take a loaf of bread. Common and cheap. Yet it takes a lot of land to grow each ingredient. Then add to the bake shop, shop shop and transportation. The impact foot print of a loaf of bread greater than our thinking.

  9. Posted by Toby Anungazuk Jr on

    The accepted formula to produce a kg of meat is (for caribou) is 10 kg of lichen and forage to produce one kg of meat during feeding or about a 1000 kg’s of feed to get 100 kg’s of meat – this is all wild feed and is really no comparison to farmed meat.
    The same formula for feed for farmed animals, but then they water them, innoculate them, add stuff to the feed, and so you should know by now that beef prices are not self sustaining and then they got to ship them to you. Our wild meats are much more healthier and a greatly undervalued even at $143 mil.

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