Views sought on strategy to make NI agri-food sector the most innovative in the UK

The Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is seeking the public’s views on ambitious plans to make Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector the most innovative of any UK region.

The Innovation Strategy identifies three goals for the industry and suggests ways to stimulate and support innovation within the agri-food, forestry and fishery sectors.

Its ultimate goal is that by 2035, Northern Ireland will be the most successful region in the UK at exploiting opportunities in the utilisation of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and the Transformative Bioeconomy across the three sectors.

In line with this, it aims that by 2025 NI will be in the top 50% of UK regions. This will be monitored through liaison with Innovate UK/UKRI.

It’s a big challenge, as the 2017 UK Innovation Survey showed Northern Irish companies were the least likely in the UK to be described as ‘innovators’.

Report

The DAERA report, which was published earlier this month, acknowledges there is a conservative attitude towards risk in the sector in Northern Ireland, as well as a lack of dedicated teams and budgets within the department dedicated to innovation.

The report also highlighted “limited engagement” between government, industry and academia.

It suggests opportunities to offer public funding, support and training for staff as solutions.

Should the plans get the go-ahead, by the end of this year a ‘Communications and Promotional Plan’ will be implemented.

Rural Innovation Support Service

It also proposes the establishment of a Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) network to support collaboration and encourage an innovation culture by autumn 2021.

The RISS will facilitate the provision of professional support, through a facilitator, to groups of like-minded individuals who want to test new ideas and find sustainable solutions to common challenges.

The DAERA strategy proposals have been drafted following engagement with key stakeholders, as well as government departments, universities, academics and innovation facilitators.

Publishing the consultation, DAERA chief scientific adviser Dr. Alistair Carson said: “There is a compelling rationale for DAERA to establish and encourage innovation. Society is facing many challenges, including feeding a growing world population and addressing climate change. Innovation is needed to find solutions to these issues.

There is evidence that businesses that innovate grow nearly twice as quickly in both employment and turnover as non-innovators, driving economic growth and solutions to environmental challenges.

“DAERA wants to better support and encourage innovation across the environment, agri-food, forestry and fisheries sectors and rural communities to achieve economic, environmental and social benefits.

“We would like to hear the views of businesses and organisations from across these sectors, as well as from anyone who has a view on how the Department should support and encourage innovation.”

DAERA is currently implementing a Science Transformation Programme. This programme aims to ensure DAERA optimises its use of science.

This Innovation Strategy derives from the draft Science Strategy Framework and is integral to its implementation.

How to respond

Responses can be made by e-mail or by post to:

Science, Evidence and Innovation Policy Division
Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
Room 643
Dundonald House
Upper Newtownards Road
Ballymiscaw
Belfast
BT4 3SB

The closing date for responses is Thursday, March 5, 2020. The full consultation document can be downloaded from the DAERA website.

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