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Minister Simon Coveney and Minister Joe Costello address international conference on developing agri-food sector in Africa

A strong and sustainable agriculture sector in Africa has the potential to tackle under-nutrition and rural poverty across the continent, speakers at an international conference on agriculture in Trinity College Dublin said today.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney and Minister for Trade and Development, Joe Costello are keynote speakers at the conference, 'Scaling Up Agriculture: Sharing Challenges and Experiences of Modernising Agriculture in Ireland and Africa'.

The conference, which is part of this year's Africa Day programme, follows the launch of a €2 million Africa Agri-Food Development Fund by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in March.

Speaking at the conference today, Minister Simon Coveney said:

"Ireland's history and experience in modernising and scaling up agriculture and related business and technology is a success story. The Irish agri-food sector is starting to realise its full potential but the road to get to where we are now has provided us with valuable lessons, many of which will also be of relevance to the African agri-food sector and which we are delighted to share. This experience and know-how will be made available through the Africa Agri-Food Development Fund.

"I am pleased to note that since the launch the establishment of the Fund has been validated, as catalytic funding to stimulate private sector involvement is now seen as an integral part of development policy. I am hosting a seminar for the agri-food sector on 14 June next to discuss next steps in implementation of the Fund. We know that the potential is there for Africa to achieve the development in its agri-food sector that has been achieved elsewhere and we stand ready to play our part in assisting them on that journey."

Minister Joe Costello said:

"To harness the potential of the agriculture sector in Africa, we must work to increase  productivity; prioritise women farmers and build value chains which give farmers a fair payment for their produce and develop markets which add value and create jobs in processing.

"Building a productive agriculture sector in Africa will help tackle under-nutrition and rural poverty across the continent. In order to succeed, we must all work together: African governments providing leadership; banks providing affordable credit and development partners - including donors like Ireland - funding innovation and technical expertise. Crucially, it involves a lead role for the private sector, which can create jobs

"I am also pleased to announce €4.8 million in funding to support research and education partnerships between Irish and African higher education institutes.

"The research partnerships have a strong focus on hunger, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health and education."

Professor David Taylor, Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin and Chair of the Trinity International Development Initiative, said:

"Poverty, health, hunger and malnutrition - all interrelated problems- are at the core of the development challenge facing African countries.  Climate change poses a major threat to food security - and therefore to health - in many parts of the continent, and is likely to have greatest impact on the poorest.

"The 'Scaling up Agriculture' conference is therefore very timely.  Agriculture is once more at the centre of the development agenda, having suffered from low levels of investment in scientific research.  As we have heard at today's conference, there are good news stories concerning agriculture on the continent.  Looking to the future, Ireland - with its well-developed food production and research sectors - has an important role to play in ensuring food security in Africa."

Other speakers at today's conference include Ambassador of Kenya, Ireland, Catherine Muigai Mwangi; Dr Philip Damas, University of Agriculture, Tanzania and Mr Kevin Friel from the Irish Dairy Board.

For further information visit www.irishaid.gov.ie or contact Fionnuala Quinlan, Press Officer, Irish Aid the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 087-9099975.

Note to Editors:

- Irish Aid is the Government's overseas aid programme. The aid programme is managed by the Development Cooperation Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

- Photos from today's event are available for download from www.fennell-photography.ie. Password is  DFAPool2012.

- Today’s conference was organised by the Trinity International Development Initiative and the Institute for International Integration Studies at TCD and the Human Development Initiative at UCD in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

- The Africa Agri-Food Development Fund is part of Ireland’s overseas development cooperation programme and is designed to support the development of new partnerships between the agri-food sectors in Ireland and Africa.

- Initiatives which receive support will be based around the themes of food safety, animal health, business development, technology transfer and research and development. The two-year pilot phase of the fund (2012 to 2013) is focused on Tanzania and Kenya.

- For further information on the fund go to: http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/agri-foodindustry/africaagri-fooddevelopmentfundaadf/

- The €4.8 million for research partnerships is funded under Irish Aid's Programme of Strategic Cooperation.  The programmes involve seven Irish higher education institutions working in partnership with institutions in five of Irish Aid’s programme Countries - Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Tanzania. The programme is managed by the Higher Education Authority on behalf of Irish Aid.

- Africa Day, which falls on 25 May annually, is the official day of the African Union and marks African unity.  In Ireland, events to mark Africa Day celebrate African diversity and the cultural and economic potential of the continent, in addition to raising awareness of the development challenges which remain and the progress which is being achieved. 

For further information on Africa Day, visit: www.africaday.ie

Date Released: 23 May 2012