International agricultural scientists affirm commitment to science-based decisions

The G20 scientists are taking a greater look at Canada’s Living Laboratories approach to research

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A recent meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) Agricultural Chief Scientists has resulted in greater attention to plant pests that move across borders and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Living Laboratories research approach.

The meeting, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), is an opportunity to discuss major challenges to sustainable agricultural production.

Ministry spokespeople say the meeting, held in Japan, primarily serves to strengthen knowledge transfer and scientific discovery between countries. This is important in order to make up for domestic funding and capacity challenges in agricultural research.

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Why it matters: Financial constraints and time commitments can limit the impact of research on the agriculture sector. Canada is one of many countries trying to offset this with more international scientific cooperation.

Attendees at this latest G20 ag-science meeting identified several other overarching areas of key research interest. These include “transboundary” plant pest and pathogens, and the increasing ease in which they spread, as well as the need for “climate-smart” technology – such as more plants more resilient to climactic extremes, or better methods of carbon sequestration to address greenhouse gasses. The scientists also made a commitment to science-based decision making.

For Canada specifically, it was an opportunity to augment AAFC’s “Living Laboratories” approach – an overarching initiative intended to solve more localized problems through cooperative participation between farmers, researchers, and others.

Offsetting the cost of research

Brian Gray, assistant deputy minister for science and technology for AAFC, says the meeting – the latest in a series of eight held since 2012 – is a separate add-on to the more general G20 economic summit held each year. The lessons and policies discussed, he says, give participants a wider knowledge base on environmental issues relevant to agriculture, from which they can advise policymakers with credible, science-based information.

“Globally it’s an opportunity for us to draft what we think the key challenges are. It doesn’t have to be a consensus,” says Gray. “Any subset of us that want to get together on any one topic discussed at the meeting can do so.”

“We don’t have enough money or capacity to do this alone. We think it would be great to have other countries doing the same things at the same time […] to share best practices and lessons learned.”

Knowledge transfer can help locally

As detailed in a communique written on behalf of all attendees, one of the main take-aways from the most recent meeting was the adoption of an “Agroecosystem Living Labs (ALL)” approach to research. This approach, says the communique, includes farmers, scientists and other interested partners in the design and on-farm evaluation of new and existing agricultural practices and technologies – the idea being to improve effectiveness and early adoption.

Gray says this idea is based directly on Canada’s Living Laboratories research strategy, the details of which he presented to attendees during the 2019 meeting. The Living Laboratories itself strategy was introduced to Canada’s agriculture sector by Lawrence MacAulay, then minister of agriculture, at the Harrow Research Station in the summer of 2018.

Gray gives two emerging research areas as examples of how the Living Laboratories concept can solve real environmental and production problems in Canada, at the farm level: phosphorous loss into waterways and biodiversity decline in southern Manitoba, as well as pesticide runoff and soil erosion in Prince Edward Island.

He adds the job of resolving many environmental challenges facing Canadian farmers are “too big to do alone,” hence the need for more effective working relationships with other countries. Success in this regard, he says, has already been seen with the United States Department of Agriculture. He also expresses optimism over the interest shown by equivalent organizations in South America and Europe.

About the author

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Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.

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