UFU encouraged by recommendations from review of AFBI

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union says it is encouraged by key recommendations published in DAERA’s review of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), the majority of which concur with the UFU’s views contributed during the review process.

The Union said it is keen to see DAERA move quickly to develop and implement a related action plan and associated work stream.

The review, carried out by DAERA, was an opportunity to help shape the future of agricultural scientific services in Northern Ireland for the benefit of the industry.

The report makes 36 recommendations in total, with the next review likely to take place in 2022.

UFU president, Ivor Ferguson, said is it now more important than ever that Northern Ireland has robust scientific services.

He added: “The uncertainty of the Brexit process means that farmers need DAERA and AFBI to be delivering services that support the competitiveness and sustainability of the agri-food industry.”

Mr Ferguson says the UFU is supportive of AFBI continuing to operate at arm’s length as a non-departmental public body.

“However, it is essential that DAERA fully embraces its own recommendation in the report that a better model to facilitate input from stakeholders must be established and implemented. This will help in the development of a more strategic, longer-term programme-based approach to science commissioning.”

The UFU has also welcomed the recommendations that AFBI should also build on existing alliances with relevant organisations.

“AFBI needs to ensure that it improves and better targets its communications with stakeholders allowing for more effective and flexible knowledge exchange arrangements to be implemented,” said Mr Ferguson.

Main recommendations include:

q The Review confirms the principle that to obtain the objectivity required and valued by the Department and industry, DAERA’s science services should continue to be delivered at arm’s length from the Department.

q DAERA should conduct an economic appraisal of the arms’ length model taking account of the review outcome that a NDPB is the best model for the delivery of science services.

q AFBI could consider the appropriateness and benefits of establishing a discrete company that may better facilitate the exploration of potential science opportunities.

q The Knowledge Framework must implement its planned effective and flexible knowledge exchange arrangements (which set out the roles for key actors such as AFBI and CAFRE while encouraging appropriate engagement of others) with ongoing evaluation and regular review of this process.