Since its launch in July 2015, Food Wise 2025 has evolved from a high level strategy into a shared blueprint for all involved in the sector. Its recommendations have been reflected in whole of Government policies including the Programme for Partnership Government, the Action Plan for Rural Development, the Action Plan for Jobs, Regional Action Plans for Jobs and the trade strategy, Ireland Connected.
My focus in the year ahead will be to support the agri-food sector (including forestry and fishing) to continue to make a vital contribution to the Irish economy, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. While the industry is currently facing significant challenges in the form of market volatility and uncertainty caused largely by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the E.U., the sector’s capacity for resilience and diversification in times of challenge should not be underestimated. Nonetheless, the challenges posed by Brexit makes the actions proposed in Food Wise 2025 all the more relevant, including those in relation to competitiveness, innovation, environmental sustainability and market diversification.
Concerns in relation to the impact on the agri- food sector are at the top of the Government’s Brexit agenda. Our ongoing consultation with stakeholders, together with our engagement with UK, Northern Ireland and EU counterparts, will be informed by the need to have the implications for the agri-food sector understood and taken account of as the negotiations unfold.
My Department and State agencies are working together to ensure that the short-term and longer-term impacts of Brexit are taken into consideration, and that appropriate supports are in place to help the sector to respond and adapt to the new realities. For example, the Agriculture Cash Flow Support Loan scheme developed by my Department in cooperation with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland provides a source of low cost flexible finance to farmers. We are also leading an intensified programme of trade missions and other initiatives aimed at opening new markets and develop existing markets for Irish agri-food exports, with supports from all the State agencies involved.
Although facing significant challenges and uncertainty arising from Brexit, we are fortunate in having a joined up response mechanism in Food Wise 2025. I chair the Food Wise High Level Implementation Committee (HLIC), with representatives from all the relevant Departments and State agencies. This committee reviews progress on a quarterly basis, on the cross-cutting themes and individual sectors outlined in Food Wise 2025 in order to identify and solve problems quickly, and regularly engage with stakeholders. Stakeholders regularly present to the committee on their priorities for particular sectors or themes. So it is very much a live and continuously updated process. Brexit is a standard item on the agenda of each meeting of the HLIC, and we will double-down on progressing relevant Food Wise recommendations, particularly those related to market development, competitiveness and innovation, as part of our Brexit response.
Progress on each of the recommendations in Food Wise is measured on a quarterly basis. Of the 417 actions in Food Wise 2025, 368 were due to commence by 2017 or are ongoing actions.
Of these 368 actions, 46% have been achieved or substantial action has been undertaken and a further 49% have commenced and are progressing well. This shows good progress but I will press on in getting as many actions as possible complete within the next year. A detailed report on the status of Year Two actions is available on the Department’s websit.
Looking forward to the remainder of this year, I am committed to building on the progress achieved to date. One of the key actions for my Department in 2017 is engagement with the Year of Sustainable Grassland, a Food Wise initiative to celebrate and optimise Ireland’s comparative advantage in terms of sustainable, grass-fed production systems. Other highlights for the next year include the establishment of an online portal to provide information on the benefits of a career in the food and drinks sector; and the establishment of a high- level core team to review the agri-food sector’s innovation capacity.
I believe that Ireland is well positioned to be the world leader in sustainable food production. Notwithstanding shorter term volatility and the instability arising from Brexit, there are future opportunities and options for all stakeholders: farmers and rural Ireland, processors and manufacturers, agri-business and exporters; and the sector will continue play a pivotal role in our economy. Ireland’s agri-food industry needs more than ever to leverage its reputation for safe, sustainable and healthy food to move further up the value chain.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you who have worked so hard to ensure our success so far. I encourage you all to continue to work together and I look forward to working with you over the next 12 months as we continue to deliver on the actions and projections outlined in Food Wise 2025.
Michael Creed, TD
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine