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On World Food Day 2019, over 400 industry
delegates gathered in Dublin to discuss
and debate what Ireland's next 10-year
strategy for the agri-food industry should
look like. The 2030 strategy follows the path
of two previous plans, Food Harvest 2020
and Food Wise 2025, which have helped
guide the industry over the past 20 years
"Agri-food production is our most important indigenous
industry," said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addressing the
conference. "The export value of the sector has grown by
73 per cent over the last 10 years. It is now approaching
14 billion an extraordinary fi gure. Through Food Wise,
the Government wants to see this fi gure rise to 19
billion by 2025. The industry also makes an enormous
contribution to employment about 7.7 per cent of total
employment in our country. The Government's ambition is
to ensure that Irish agriculture continues to produce high
quality, safe, traceable and nutritious food while protecting
and enhancing the environment. The Government will
continue to prioritise the Common Agricultural Policy and
the budget for CAP."
A common vision
During July, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the
Marine, Michael Creed had launched a Public Consultation
on Ireland's next agri-food strategy, welcoming
submissions from the public. These suggestions helped
shape the open debate with six thematic sessions for
attendees to participate in. These covered areas such
as: food insights and creating more value-added;
approaches to improving farm household viability; the
role of technology in farming and food production;
environmentally sustainable farming and food; protecting
and enhancing consumer trust in the food chain; and
opportunities in the bioeconomy.
Commenting on the day, Tara McCarthy, CEO, Bord Bia,
said: "We leverage the structure of Food Harvest and
Food Wise in all our work. We link our strategy to it as
well, so when we are overseas and speak to about our
food industry's strategy, it calls respect for an industry that
works together, it calls respect for an industry that has a
vision and a plan. From Bord Bia's perspective, having the
consumer, trends, technology and sustainability all of the
things that we speak to every single day spoken about as
the backdrop to the industry and for the full supply chain
to be here and to contribute to those discussions, that's an
exciting day's work."
Consumer power
Before attendees divided into the sessions, global food and
agribusiness thought leader, Mary Shelman, presented the
audience with the global perspective, discussing potential
infl uencing factors for the future. Informed, engaged and
empowered consumers have had a huge impact on the
industry to date, and they are not going away. Front of
mind for many of these consumers is the issue of climate
change, driving demand for more sustainable products,
produced naturally. Mary said sustainability had moved very
much from fad to fundamental and must begin inside the
farm gate. "The one thing that we do know about food is
that you can't build in sustainability to a product once it
gets past the farm gate. It has to happen on the inside. This
recognition is driving stronger and tighter relationships
along the food chain." Additionally, the understanding of
what sustainability means is expanding. "The boundaries
keep expanding, it started as an inside-the factory gate
footprint, but we started adding new dimensions to it, that
weren't necessarily environmental animal welfare, labour
practices, human health as well as packing and food
waste." Again, Mary said, technology has the potential to
play an important role in helping the industry to deliver on
these sustainability objectives. "Innovative programmes
are being introduced in order to encourage greater
conservation and sustainability inside the farm gate. Things
like regenerative agriculture, carbon initiatives, biodiversity
initiatives, and there are also alliances that span companies
within the industry that previously would have been strong
competitors." Mary said this `span' is vital as one producer
among many who is committed to sustainability is not
enough. Everyone needs to be on the same agenda. "If the
sector itself is viewed as a tough environmental culprit, it
doesn't help for you to be better. The whole sector has to
be better."
Importantly, Mary noted, there is evidence that agriculture
is becoming a more appealing for investors. "Historically,
this has been a low-growth industry, it wasn't interesting
to investors, but now that has changed." In 2018, $17
billion was invested in ag tech, this is 43 per cent higher
than 2017, which also saw a 43 per cent increase in capital
investment. "It's not just about the amount of capital that's
coming in but who is putting money in. It's the traditional
investors, the venture capitalists, the angel investors and
some seed funds, but it's also sovereign wealth investment
funds countries and governments that are concerned
about food security and see technology solutions as
necessary to being able to achieve their own objects.
Stakeholder-led strategy