OFA comments on the proposal to modernize the ARIO Act. ARIO is the appointed body that provides strategic advice to the Minister on agri-food research activities and provides oversight for the network of 14 research stations in Ontario.
OFA agrees that the ARIO should play a lead role in collaboration and consultation on the ministry’s research priorities across the agri-food sector, identifying common research priorities to address gaps that currently exists. Clear policies for ARIO structure, governance, roles and responsibilities, engagement with, and accountability to, the agri-food sector need to be established. Changes to the ARIO Board make-up, including representation of commodity and producer groups as well as other parts of the agri-food value chain, will ensure research priorities and investments are strategic and meet sector needs.
OFA sees ARIO in a key, over-arching role that coordinates priority-setting for impactful investment in research and innovation, with producer and commodity representation and cross-sector collaboration. This would ensure the right infrastructure and equipment exists to support world-class research that enhances the sustainability and profitability of the Ontario agri-food sector, aligning with the Grow Ontario Strategy.
OFA supports that a key objective for ARIO is to advise the Minister on high-impact, transformational agri-food research and innovation. However, OFA strongly recommends that ARIO’s specific role with respect to enabling, facilitating and encouraging research and innovation needs to be clearly defined so that duplication does not occur, particularly with the role that OMAFRA plays in this area. Similarly, OFA also recommends that ARIO plays only a supporting role in enabling knowledge translation and transfer, as well as encouraging commercialization and supporting business and market development, to compliment rather than overlap with the well-established and proven work of OMAFRA and others in the sector.
OFA wants to emphasize that the revised structure and role of ARIO needs to recognize representatives of the agri-food sector as key partners. This should be reflected by including producer groups and sector organizations in the composition of ARIO to ensure meaningful engagement, not just consultation.