News and Articles

Nutrition North Canada Program: A Feeble Effort to End Hunger

Nicole’s Blog
September 7, 2023

By Nicole Traynor, 2023 Social Connectedness Fellow

In Nunavut, 50% of all households within the territory face food insecurity, and for Inuit families that number climbs to 70% of households that face food insecurity.

In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized the right to food as a universal human right for the first time. Since then there have been numerous affirmations on the right to food and food security mentioned in many international agreements. In Canada, 15.9% of Canadian households face food insecurity or inadequate access to food

The Canadian government is regularly criticized for its lack of action in addressing food access and quality in Nunavut. In 2011 they instituted Nutrition North Canada (NNC) program to counter food insecurity and to provide subsidies to make food more affordable. However, the NNC program has faced many critiques, most calling into question the effectiveness of the subsidies that are granted to retailers by the government, rather than subsidies given to non-profits or directly to people. The subsidies given to retailers are not transparent and have been criticized by many, including Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), as subsidies may not be passed down to the consumers they’re supposed to serve. This lack of transparency draws concerns that Inuit health and well-being are not being prioritized. Concerningly, after the introduction of the NNC food insecurity rates increased and continue to increase despite the programs intentions to lower food costs and reduce food insecurity. In addition, the subsidies that the NNC program offers do not cover things such as gear or goods that are necessary for hunters. The current format of the NNC program does not intend to support the local food systems and economy, both of which have the potential to lower food insecurity rates in the region. But despite several clear issues with the NNC program, it remains the primary government funded scheme to address food insecurity in Nunavut. 

In 2017, ITK produced “An Inuit-Specific Approach for the Canadian Food Policy,” which contained recommendations and identified multiple barriers to food security in Inuit Nunangat. The recommendations involved a call to action that would require territorial or federal government levels that make decisions on the food systems in Inuit regions to respect Inuit self-determination by working with existing  Inuit governance organizations, such as ITK, Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) or Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA). Along with this, the report identified income as the leading barrier to food security within the region. To provide some context, a report by ITK, “Inuit Statistical Profile 2018”, provides the median income for individuals 15 years and older and compares it to the income of non-indigenous people in the region. For those residing within Inuit Nunangat, the median income was $23, 485, for non-Indigenous peoples residing within the region the median income was $92, 011. The report on food policy further recommended that income and employment opportunities be improved through several measures such as a basic northern income index that is adjustable to the cost of living in Inuit regions, or job creation programs. These were advocated by ITK since income is one of the leading issues when it comes to causes of food insecurity. 

In addition to income being a barrier for food access in the north, the “Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy”, has highlighted the lack of proper infrastructure as being a continuous problem. Both infrastructure for air and marine have been reported to be lacking and impact accessibility and safety. For example, “when ice conditions allow, community resupply ships must rely on smaller vessels to transfer goods to land because there are either no docking facilities or challenging docking conditions, further increasing the prices of food and other goods”. This report recommended more funding be dedicated to address infrastructure issues in transporting goods, which, in turn, can improve access to country and market food. This report echoes and continues to demand more transparency within the NNC program and better financial support for hunters and food sharing systems for Inuit in Nunavut. 

Although several reports and articles have been written on the NNC’s programming defaults, there has been limited action from the federal government to address the structural concerns of  the NNC or make the funding process more transparent. Recently in April 2023, the territorial government increased their Income Assistance Program. However, despite an increase to basic income funding, QCFC has served on average 361 meals per day in June 2023. It is time for the territorial government to adjust funding so that it is proportionate to the high cost of living in the territory and inflation rates within the country.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity rates increased across the country, as food bank usage soared. However, Rachel Blais Executive Director of QCFC has shared that emergency food services experienced the sharpest increase in demand after programs like CERB ended pointing to a long-documented problem of inadequate countermeasures to poverty*. With high unemployment rates and food prices continuing to rise since the beginning of the pandemic, several food banks and non-profits continue to see hundreds of people. Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre (QCFC) located in Iqaluit, continues to experience higher than average rates of turnout, and served an average of 361 meals in June 2023 alone. With a population of approximately, 7, 740 people where an average of 361 meals per day in one month alone is an astounding number of people in need of food – especially good, nutritious food and country food.  At QCFC the amount of meals being served on a daily basis have been steadily increasing in the past 2 years – so what is being done about this? 

The government’s response to food insecurity within the region has been the NNC program, and the territorial government recently increased their income assistance programming, but levels are still at an all time high for QCFC. The government must take substantive action and listen to organizations that are closest to the work such as QCFC, who advocate for improved access to food, policy change and long term solutions to achieve food sovereignty. Without listening to organizations like ITK, QIA and QCFC, the government’s funding solutions, such as the NNC program, will fall short in its goals to reduce food insecurity rates within Nunavut. The solution lies within supporting existing local food systems and providing comprehensive funding that will support it which can increase food sovereignty. Food security in the north can’t exist without food sovereignty. 


Food Secure Canada. “Affordable Food in the North”. 2023. Online (website): <>  

Jane George. “We are struggling to keep up”: hunger in Iqaluit stretches food centre’s capacity”. CBC News. August 30, 2022. Online (article): <>

Sharif Hassan. “Food bank usage across Canada hit all-time high, nearly 1.5M visits in March report”. The Canadian Press. October 27th, 2022. Online (article): <

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “An Inuit-Specific Approach for the Canadian Food Policy”. November 20, 2017. Online (pdf): <>. 

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy”. July 2021. <>

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. “Inuit Statistical Profile 2018”. 2018. Online (pdf): <>.

Nunavut Food Security Coalition. “Rates”. 2023. Online (website): <>.

Pauktuutit: Inuit Women of Canada. “Social and Economic Development: Food Security”. 2023. Online (website): <>.

PROOF. “What can be done to reduce food insecurity in Canada”. Food insecurity policy research. University of Toronto. 2023. Online (article): <>. 

Amber Ripley. “Household food insecurity: it’s not just about food”. Canadian Public Health Association. January 13, 2023. Online (article): <>  

Statistics Canada. “Household food insecurity, 2017/18”. June 24th, 2020. Online (website): <>. 
Andrée-Anne Fafard St-Germain, Tracey Galloway and Valerie Tarasuk. “Food Insecurity in Nunavut following the introduction of Nutrition North Canada”. Canadian Medical Association Journal. May 21, 2019. Online (article): < >.