By Janet Krayden, Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC)

Producers often speak about the aid benefits of Canada’s Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program (SAWP) for farm workers and their families. And, due to the personal relationship farmers have with their seasonal employees, they have a unique, first-hand perspective to witness the ways the lives of their farm workers and their families change for the better while employed through the SAWP.

Although this foreign aid component is generally understood by Canadian producers who use the program—the benefits of the SAWP incomes that allow workers and their families to rise out of poverty, build new homes, and send their children to school—it is not widely known or understood by the media, the public, or even government officials.

One of the reasons the benefits of the SAWP could be the best kept secret in Canadian agriculture is that the program, with its exemplary 50-year track record, doesn’t officially recognize and or report on these economic benefits.

In Australia, the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP), a relatively new program established in 2012, is one of only a handful of migration schemes globally that maintains the explicit objective of contributing to the economic development of labour-sending countries.

Similar to Canada’s SAWP, the Australian SWP has a Pacific Island circle of host countries. And also similar to Canada, seasonal workers benefit from the opportunity to earn Australian wages and gain valuable on-the-job learning opportunities.” A 2018 World Bank Report documented the foreign aid benefits of the Australian program.

“At the aggregate level, the SWP has employed 17,320 Pacific Islanders since 2012 and delivered approximately $144 million in net income gains to the region,” indicates the report. “The program is clearly delivering on its core objective of contributing to the economic development of participating countries, as measured in terms of income.”

Preliminary research conducted by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) indicates the Canadian SAWP provides a much more substantial impact to its circle of countries. Using CAHRC’s 2014 labour market information numbers, where 35,000 seasonal workers were employed, approximately $337 million in remittances were sent home by SAWP employees to the host countries: Mexico, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

At the same time, CAHRC research indicates that Canada’s total foreign aid budget to these countries is $29 million. This means the SAWP employee remittances are more than 11 times greater than Canada’s annual aid to these same countries.

It is also not commonly understood that SAWP employees are important contributors to the Canadian economy. According to the CAHRC preliminary estimates based on the 2014 data, SAWP workers contributed more than $113.5 million to the Canadian economy. These economic contributions include purchasing items from local Canadian communities, such as rice, flour, and hightech merchandise to bring home to their families, as well as contributions to Canadian EI, CPP, and the Canadian tax base.

Louise Arbour, United Nation special representative for international

At a Conference Board of Canada immigration summit in May 2018, the keynote speaker was the Hon. Louise Arbour, who is currently the United Nation’s special representative for international migration. She spoke about development and migration, including comments supporting seasonal programming and its positive connection to remittances.

“Development is a good thing. Among other things, it helped reduce infant mortality in Africa,” Arbour explained at the meeting “Meanwhile, the western world is experiencing a steady decline of its working age population, at slightly different rates between countries. This calls for smart— but traditional—immigration policies, driven largely by labour market needs. Particularly when the pushes and pull factors are strong, responsive legal pathways are critical.”

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), an international organization with the mandate to improve competitiveness and promote the sustainable development of agriculture in the western hemisphere, released its Report on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program with research conducted by Drs. Sara Mann, Marie-Hélène Budworth, and Andrew Rose.

The findings indicate “notable benefits and inherent opportunities for supporting agricultural development in Latin American and Caribbean countries,” says Dr. Audia Barnett, representative in Canada for IICA.

“Today, the agri-food sector, just like many other sectors, has become a global workplace. Canada’s seasonal programming enables farm businesses to meet their seasonal labour needs, while providing economic support for workers from developing countries,” says Barnett. “The bonus being the potential of ongoing agricultural knowledge exchange that allows for transfer of ideas, innovation, and technologies.”

IICA has been working with the help of Canadian producers and Jamaican SAWP employees to extend its project, seeking to launch a new program where Jamaican workers who are trained and knowledgeable in Canadian modern agriculture practices could, in turn, train other Jamaican workers with little or no agricultural experience.

All these developmental positives are in addition to the job multiplier effect, where the SAWP creates two full-time jobs for Canadian workers up and down the value chain, according to The Economic Impact of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program in the Ontario Horticulture Sector, research conducted by Al Mussel.

The Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS) has developed a short video highlighting SAWP benefits available on the Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC) Awareness Campaign webpage, under the Facts and Key Messages section.

The SAWP allows Canada to be a good global citizen, at no cost to the Canadian taxpayer. This makes it a win for all parties, including the workers, their families, and the economies of their home countries, along with the Canadian farm businesses, consumers, and the economy.