Agri-food’s €26bn value to nation
The agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, with a turnover of €26 billion. It contributes 7.6% of GDP, 8.6% of employment and generates 10.4% of all merchandise exports. It is widely dispersed throughout the country and continues to lead economic recovery and growth.
The agri-food sector has performed strongly in recent years with exports reaching an estimated €11.15 billion in 2016 ( Bord Bia figures), continuing the annual increases seen since 2009. The value of Food and Beverage exports has risen by more than 50% since then. The total value of agri-food exports, including non- edible products such as forestry, was estimated by the CSO at close to €12 billion.
The global food market of the future will be marked by increasing population growth and prosperity in developing countries. Consumers increasingly demand assurances of safety, nutritional value and sustainabl e production methods for the food they consume; as well as greater choice and convenience in food products. The Irish agri- food sector is well placed to meet these demands, but will need to remain focused on sustainability, competitiveness and innovation in order to grow existing and new markets.
Food Wise 2025, the 10-year strategy for the agri-food sector, underlines the sector’s unique and special position within the Irish economy. It identifies the opportunities and challenges facing the sector and provides an enabling strategy that will allow the sector to grow and prosper.
Food Wise includes more than 400 detailed recommendations, spread across the cross-cutting themes of sustainability, innovation, human capital, market development and competitiveness; as well as specific sectoral recommendations. Food Wise projects ambitious growth in exports (an increase of 85% to €19 billion) and employment ( an increase of 23,000 in direct and indirect jobs) by 2025.
Food Wise implementation is very much a live and continuously updated process. I chair the High Level Implementation Committee, involving senior officials from relevant Departments and State agencies. We meet quarterly to review progress, as well as engaging with stakeholders on key topics. I think the experience we have had in bringing together stakeholders from all sides of the industry, along with NGOs, academics and officials, has given a strength and depth to our strategic focus, and this will be particularly important in responding to Brexit.
Market Development, one of the themes of Food Wise, identifies the need to ensure that Irish products are targeted at the right markets and at the right segments within these markets.
In April, I announced a seven point plan for market access, including additional resources on market access in my Department, market profiling research by Bord Bia, and an intensified programme of trade missions to promote Irish food and drink on EU and third country markets. These initiatives will undoubtedly be of direct assistance to Irish food and drink exporters this year.
They are entirely consistent with the Food wise 2025 strategy, and are all the more relevant against the background of the decision of the UK to exit the European Union. We will, of course, keep these arrangements under review, in consultation with industry, to ensure that resources are deployed to best effect and that our efforts are focussed on making real progress for business operators in priority markets.
Food Safety and Environmental Sustainability are both crucial to maintaining our existing markets and developing new market opportunities. Irish food is produced to the highest international standards of quality and food safety. Our food safety and traceability systems are recognised as among the very best in the world.
Environmental sustainability is at the heart of Food Wise, which states that “environmental protection and economic competitiveness are equal and complementary: one cannot be achieved at the expense of the other”. Ireland is already one of the world’s most efficient food producers, in terms of carbon footprint per unit of output. But we are implementing measures to drive down the carbon intensity of our food production even further. The ambition that Ireland should be a global leader in sustainable food production, building on our natural advantages, is shared by the Government, farmers and food industry alike.
Food Wise 2025 highlights the need for Ireland to be promoted in emerging markets in particular in regions and countries which may not be familiar with our positive natural environment, our culture and our people.
The report recommends that this can be achieved by harnessing the complementarity which exists between the Irish Agri-food and Tourism sectors, which are also two of our leading export sectors.
The promotion of Ireland and the promotion of Irish food will lead to additional crossover benefits for each sector and there is great potential to enhance this complementarity in the future for the mutual benefit of each sector and for the overall benefit of the Irish economy.
An allocation of €500,000 to agrifood tourism schemes in rural areas has been agreed for 2017 for the Rural Innovation and Development Fund (RIDF) under the CEDRA process. The agri- food element of the RIDF is intended to focus on longerterm, wider impacting proposals, such as business and skills training, network development, initiation and development of inter- county agri- food tourism schemes/ trails and especially those schemes that are linked to existing or developing local authority tourism/agri strategies. The fund will be managed through Local Authorities (LA) and Local Enterprise Offices (LEO).
Finally, I want to assure you that the Government and my Department have been taking steps to ensure a sensible and coherent approach is adopted in dealing with Brexit. The Government has set up a very well-coordinated process, led by the Taoiseach and his Department, to ensure a fully joined- up Government response, and my Department is feeding into this overall process. I have engaged in a wide range consultation and engagement process, both at home in order to fully understand the issues involved, and abroad to ensure that both the EU Member States and the UK government are fully aware of the potential impact a hard Brexit will have on our agri food sector. At a sectoral level, the Food Wise implementation process allows us to take a strategic approach to tackling the key issues that will arise.
Many of you will be familiar with the Irish proverb ‘ní neart go cur le chéile’ (there is no strength without unity), and I think that is more relevant than ever in the case of the Irish agri-food sector today.
Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, chef Reif Othman and Bord Bia CEO, Tara McCarthy, launching the UAE chapter of the Bord Bia’s Chefs’ Irish Beef Club in Abu Dhabi.