Rural investment efforts get a huge global ally

Stock image. Photo by Johnny Peacock (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

With the Ontario election campaign in full swing, the drive to arm rural-friendly politicians with substance for strategic policies and talking points has received a huge global boost.

The international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has issued a report called Rural 3.0. – A Framework for Rural Development, saying rural regions will play a central role in meeting the major global opportunities and challenges of the 21st century.

It says rural regions already make a significant contribution to national prosperity and well being across its 35 member countries (including Canada). Rural regions contain the vast majority of the land, water and other natural resources in OECD countries. They complement cities “through connections related to the flow of people, goods and services.”

Further, it says, innovations in food production, new energy sources to meet climate challenges and natural resources found in rural regions are key contributions to support global population growth.

The report notes shifts in manufacturing and natural resource-based industries, combined with population loss and aging, “mean some rural communities are being left behind, which fuels discontent.”

That’s for sure. Discontent is amplified in Ontario because of the election, but it’s an accurate statement in pretty well any rural region in Canada.

The OECD gets it. “The capacity of governments to effectively address these challenges and opportunities will impact future national cohesion and prosperity,” it says. If offered the chance, I’m sure it would say provincial cohesion, too.

That’s what the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is counting on.

“In Ontario, we know our rural communities and farms have untapped potential to benefit all Ontarians, and welcome the global support for this position in the Rural 3.0 report,” it says.

Indeed, the federation is promoting the OECD report in tandem with its own Producing Prosperity in Ontario campaign, likewise aimed at economic growth. The OFA’s campaign outlines how investments in the agri-food sector and Ontario’s rural communities can lead to economic growth through job creation, affordable housing, environmental sustainability and local food security.

The OFA campaign reminds everyone Ontario agriculture is big business, contributing $13.7 billion to the province’s annual GDP, and $1.4 billion in provincial tax revenues. As well, a great deal of agri-food processing is located in and around the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, “making the health and security of Ontario’s agriculture sector and rural residents who work on farms and in agriculture businesses vital to the jobs and success of processing businesses in our largest urban centres.”

Says federation president Keith Currie: “Agriculture, food and rural communities matter, and can be the game-changer… with prudent, distributed economic development we have an opportunity to help everyone in the province, no matter where you live. No other industry can claim that.”

Pro-rural candidates should keep the OECD report and the OFA’s campaign in their back pockets, for the inevitable arguments with those who wonder why money should be invested outside highly populated urban centres. This is good material to work with — the OECD is a credible and influential information source that doesn’t fiddle with small stuff or motherhood. Ditto for the OFA, which is handing politicians who promote good jobs and prosperity a pithy template for meaningful discussions.

Of course, the real test will come after the election, when urban MPPs are called on to support policy that leads to investment in the ridings of their rural counterparts. That’s when convincing pro-rural arguments will really be needed. And when they are, these resources will stand ready.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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