Climate change and traditional food security in northern Quebec

The results of this project will enable indigenous communities, regional organizations, and provincial and federal governments to consider a future where food security is assured.

Project details
Scientific program
2014-2019 programming
Theme(s) and priority(s)
Nordic Environment
Start and duration
December 2018 • 3 years
Project Status
Principal(s) investigator(s)
Murray Humphries


Local Indigenous food systems involve the harvest, consumption, and conservation of local biodiversity for health. Local food connects people and nature, contributing to the health, well-being, and cultural identity of Indigenous communities. Accordingly, research on local Indigenous food systems needs to move beyond the disciplinary assumption that the natural world, the social world, and the health of people can be studied as separate things. Climate change is the world's predominant environmental crisis. Observed warming has already exceeded forecasts of some of the highest emission scenarios, rendering adaptation imperative now and in the future. Community concerns about the negative impacts of climate change on local food security emphasize endangered or declining wildlife populations; changes in animal health, behaviour and distribution; and the difficulties and dangers associated with travelling across land, water and ice to access these resources.

Better understanding of recent and contemporary impacts of climate change on local food systems and better-informed prediction of future impacts is a key knowledge and research priority. Identifying climate change impacts on local food systems and key food species, and the development of adaptation strategies able to maintain local food security in an era of rapid social and environmental change, are critical to the sustainability of northern communities and lifeways.



  • Document and anticipate the impacts of climate change on traditional food security in northern Québec, including the Cree communities of Eeyou Istchee and the Inuit communities of Nunavik, through the bringing together of existing knowledge and the co-creation of new knowledge;

  • Support the adaptive capacity of northern communities in relation to the integrity of their local food systems and the contributions of local food to well-being, culture, and relationship to land.


  • Literature review, previous document and data analysis

  • Workshops and forums on regional/local knowledge, observations, and priorities

  • Interviews and participant observation with key informants and knowledge holders

  • Community-partnered wildlife research and monitoring

  • Remote sensing, biologging, and ecosystem model


Key findings on the process of community-engaged research and knowledge co-production on local Indigenous food systems include  the necessity of transdisciplinarity, knowledge plurality, context-specificity, shared goals, and interaction, and graduate student internships with partner organizations improve research relationships, understanding, and reciprocity. 

Nature of local Indigenous food systems
Key findings identify these as a value network created by people and the land (Figure 1), supported by availability, accessibility, adequacy, and use as stacked food security foundations, and culture-defining and valuable economically and nutritionally. 

Wildlife harvest and local food consumption in northern Quebec
Key findings focus on accelerating and inter-related social, economic, and environmental change, the diversity of fishes, birds, mammals, and plants used as local food, and their varied importance, nutritionally and economically, between regions, among communities, and over time. 

Impacts of climate change on local food security
Key findings indicate the importance of the sensitivities and adaptive capacities of each component part and the system as a whole, system responses likely to include increased biodiversity (Figure 2), including the northward expansion of southern species, higher exposure and sensitivity in the North might lead to larger system responses, community harvest practices and food use seem unlikely to simply change as local climate and ecological conditions change, and local knowledge prioritization of declines in abundance, health, and use of key food species. 

Policy implications
Key findings emphasize local food system policy intersects with many other generally siloed policies, climate change impacts and adaptations are embedded within multiple jurisdictions and multiple stressors, and future climate predictions are useful, but need to find the right balance between generality and complexity, evidence and uncertainty, immediate actions and need for more information, and supporting expert opinion and embracing humility.

Figure 1 sécurité alimentaire traditionnelle

Figure 1. A local Indigenous food system value chain, with colors reflecting typically siloed knowledge domains including natural science focus on the physical environment and wildlife populations (green), social science focus on knowledge and culture (gold), and health science focus on food, nutrition, and health (purple).

Figure 2 sécurité alimentaire traditionnelle

Figure 2. Quebec’s climate gradient in fish (green), bird (grey), mammal (brown), and summed diversity (black) in relation to annual average temperature (1981-2010 reference period). Horizontal arrows indicate projected climate change (RCP 8.5 high emissions scenario; 2041-2070 horizon) and vertical arrows indicate possible diversity change, indicated as number of species (% change).

Future activities
  • Ongoing projects related to key local food species and environmental change in northern Quebec including the impact of expanding beaver colonies on char and other wildlife in Nunavik, changing moose populations and habitat quality across climate, forestry, and fire disturbance gradients, phenological change and the nutrition and wellness offered by berries and other plants, changing coastal ecology of James Bay including eelgrass, geese, and polar bears

  • Developing a youth learning and local food literacy project, focused initially in Whapmagoostui, Eeyou Istchee

  • Expansion of focus on terrestrial diversity and production to consider how changes in marine productivity will affect local food security in Nunavik and Eeyou Marine Regions

  • Action-oriented and community-led research focused on local and regional implementation of local food adaptation initiatives

Benefits for adaptation

Benefits for adaptation

This collaborative project has co-identified, with local knowledge holders and regional organizations, adaptation and mitigation strategies that can minimize the negative impacts of climate change on local food systems, while strengthening the social-ecological resilience of Eeyou Istchee and Nunavik. 

Possible local food system adaptations to climate change include maintaining local food foundations; agricultural innovations; supporting harvesters; redefining food sharing networks; land, food, and culture-based learning; adapting harvest calendars and weather responses; harvesting more small-bodied species; managing invasive species; and supporting wellness.

Scientific publications

Document type
Changements climatiques et sécurité alimentaire traditionnelle dans le nord du Québec
Humphries, M


This project is funded by the Government of Quebec and meets the objectives of the Plan pour une économie verte 2030.

Other participants

Numerous regional and territorial organizations and several academic institutions were involved in this project.

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