Rural Ontario wants better treatment
IN URBAN ONTARIO, PEOPLE are lining up to pay $1,000 for a new smart phone.
Laws are being discussed to prevent distracted pedestrians from walking into traffic.
Google’s Pixel book is starting to shake-up the touch-screen laptop world.
And yet in rural Ontario, many residents still don’t even have access to the Internet. Money has been invested in improving access, but there’s still a long way to go.
Lack of Internet access is one of six rural Ontario dilemmas, problems or yellow flags raised in a new series of foresight papers, by authors commissioned by the Rural Ontario Institute.
The papers cover place specific policy, the impact of megatrends on rural development, broadband infrastructure, rural business succession, volunteerism and the visitor economy, which is about drawing visitors to rural amenities.
They explore particular topics that reflect the challenges and opportunities for rural and northern Ontario.
The institute chose the topics based on consultations with its stakeholders, which include farmers.
For example, the paper about broadband infrastructure, by Catherine Middleton, argues that modern agri-business needs access to high-speed Internet, just like urban businesses do.
The same goes for onfarm business, which are disadvantaged because of slow Internet speed and spotty coverage.
Likewise, farmers engaged in innovative production approaches – precision agriculture and advanced data aggregation, for example – require better bandwidth than many of them have access to now.
Bravo to the institute for bringing them to light. The papers look towards directions various stakeholders, governments or non-profits might follow to foster rural development, in light of the trends and opportunities the authors foresee.
“Farmers need a basic rural framework in place so they have schools their kids can attend, a workforce to draw from and other necessities that serve the agri-food value chain,” says Norman Ragetlie, the institute’s director of policy and stakeholder engagement.
One paper by author David Freshwater, called Growth Beyond Cities: Place-Based Rural Development Policy in Ontario, has caught the attention of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
In the paper, Freshwater notes the sheer size and diversity of rural Ontario means that for any policy to be effective, the province has to deal with various rural circumstances in different ways.
So called one-size-fits-all policies are no longer effective, he says. Rather, clear economic development opportunities exist in rural Ontario that could benefit both the people living in these areas and the province collectively.
“To realize these opportunities will require the introduction of a policy framework that supports local rural development initiatives,” Freshwater says, adding that in this regard, Ontario is similar to other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development where there are similar ongoing challenges in identifying appropriate policies to support rural growth.
Two other papers are particularly pertinent to farmers.
In one paper, Rural Business Succession: Innovation Opportunities to Revitalize Local Communities, author Paul Chamberlain notes how many rural businesses do not have succession plans. If they simply close down their operations once the owners retire, there’ll be a void in the farm community that depends on them.
And in the paper The Visitor Economy and Rural Cultural Amenities, author Christopher Fullerton notes the growing interest in rural tourism experiences based on agriculture such as food trails, farmers’ markets, on-farm bed and breakfasts and culinary tourism. These activities have flourished and become a cultural phenomenon, but they’ll require support and policies to endure.
OFA president Keith Currie has praised the Institute’s effort to raise rural issues in this way. He says the federation “was pleased to see these papers underscore the importance of our rural communities.”
The papers can be viewed at ruralontarioinstitute.ca/ fore sight papers.