Agriculture research needs to focus on future challenges

The institute said rising population, climate change and the need to find 
alternatives to fossil fuels are priorities

Canada needs a forward-looking agriculture research policy to help feed a burgeoning global population, cope with climate change and develop alternatives to fossil fuels, says the Agriculture Institute of Canada.

It has released a proposal to create a strong scientific base that “will be the primary source of innovation and productivity enhancements needed to meet these future challenges,” says AIC CEO Serge Buy.

“If Canada is to regain its leadership in agricultural research, this is a good first step,” he adds. “The concrete steps outlined in this policy can pave the way for the future.”

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The institute, which represents academics and researchers in agri-food issues and related disciplines, has spent nearly two years consulting with its members, farm groups and government officials on the scope of the policy. The AIC’s purpose when it was formed in 1920 was to develop a national research policy.

It contains five basic themes and the measures that scientists, industry and governments need to implement to achieve them. They are:

  •  Setting long-term national goals in agricultural research;
  •  Better consulting all stakeholders when establishing research priorities;
  •  Recognizing Canada has global responsibilities in agriculture research;
  •  Enhancing the transfer knowledge from researchers to farmers and others;
  •  Providing stable and predictable financial support for both fundamental and applied research.

Buy says AIC will treat the research policy as a living document and continue to consult on its contents to keep them relevant. As well, it will provide an annual checklist on the progress of implementing its plans. It will require “a shared vision and commitment from governments, producers and industry” to succeed.

Canada shouldn’t conduct agriculture research in isolation, the policy points out. “We must acknowledge Canada’s partnership role in international efforts to meet future food security and climate change challenges.” It must also make sure that what the scientists and researchers discover is shared with the industry and the public.

One of the first steps is the creation of “a national body to develop medium- and long-term agricultural research priorities and strategies.” While the federal Science, Technology and Innovation Council identified agriculture as a priority research area, it “lacks the mandate to be a co-ordinating body to bring multiple stakeholders together to develop the needed medium- and long-term research strategies.”

A national research co-ordinator “will help us to create a road map to meet our future food security and environmental challenges and become a global leader in agricultural innovation and sustainability.”

Domestic and foreign consumers are demanding more information on how their food was produced,” the policy statement says. “Their views on human health, plant and animal health, and the health of ecosystems and the environment will continue to impact the sector in ways that were not imaginable 50 years ago.

“Agriculture and agricultural research relies on the public’s trust for success,” the policy adds. The co-ordinating body would look for research that “monitors social concerns and expectations regarding agriculture, and search for ways to meet these concerns and expectations through basic research and development of new technology.”

The co-ordinating body would also look for funding from a diverse range of sources including governments, industry and producers, as well as co-funding from other research disciplines.

It says researchers need stable and predictable government support — both at the federal and provincial levels to work on long-term solutions. But better co-ordination of priorities will reduce duplication and provide a better return on investment, it says.

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