Ru­ral On­tario wants bet­ter treat­ment

The Woolwich Observer - - VENTURE - OWEN ROBERTS

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 ru­ralon­tar­i­oin­sti­ fore sight pa­pers.

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