Ireland well placed to ramp up food supply as global demand rises
Origin Green initiative forms part of Irish investment in sustainable food sector growth
The demand for protein, in the form of dairy and meat, will almost double over the next 30 years. Ireland’s competitive advantages in these foods include its weather and its structure of family farming.
The population of the world’s urban centres will increase by almost 70 per cent between now and 2050. The Earth’s population will by then exceed nine billion, the majority living in urban areas, their income levels a multiple of those of their counterparts today.
Feeding this growing population of more affluent, urban consumers with changing eating habits will require a dramatic shift in the world’s ability to feed itself. Average calorific intake will continue to increase in developing countries in line with their expanding average incomes, rising from about 2,000 calories a day to the current developed world’s level of more than 3,000. Forecasters suggest global food production will need to increase by 60-100 per cent by 2050.
Food waste in all its forms needs to be addressed. The United Nations and World Bank suggest that 25-33 per cent of all agricultural output is currently wasted, some simply falling off trucks on badly-surfaced dirt tracks leading away from smallholder farms, some (inexcusably) simply passing directly from domestic fridges to bins.
More global land needs to be used to produce food; and land must become far more productive, in a manner that does not damage the environment. Intensification in a sustainable manner is the holy grail: governments, farmers, traders, producers and retailers need to work together to change how the global food supply works.
The demand for protein, in the form of dairy and meat, will almost double over the next 30 years. Ireland has some natural competitive advantages in these foods: our weather, our structure of family farming and our global-leading businesses provides a foundation for very significant growth. But this growth needs to be achieved in the right manner.
Ireland currently exports 90 per cent of its food and drink output. Many other parts of the world are net importers of food – Britain, for example, produces just half of its domestic-market needs. The world needs a sustainable source of safe and dependable foods, and Ireland is well placed to play its part in meeting that demand.
Since 2012, Bord Bia has worked closely with all of the stakeholders in the Irish food and drink sector to establish the only sustainability programme in the world that is operated on a national level, uniting government, farmers, producers and retailers on a shared journey.
Under the banner of “Origin Green” it aims to position Ireland as one of the most sustainable sources of food and drink in the world. Such a claim is credible only if it can be proved. Robust systems of measurement have been established to monitor progress: carbon footprinting farms; monitoring improvements on waste and energy usage; enhancing sourcing strategies; and improving the social impact of the Irish food sector.
Global customers are increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability, and Irish food and drink exports can continue on its growth path if we can consistently establish our sustainability credentials in a credible way.
Some progress has been achieved. Last week, Bord Bia published its unique national sustainability report. More than 220 major players in the Irish food, drink and horticulture sector, representing 90 per cent of total exports, committed to more than 1,600 sustainability targets during 2016, a 100 per cent increase on 2015 figures.
Since the scheme was launched, more than 137,000 carbon assessments have been completed on Irish beef and dairy farms, with targets set for significant reduction in carbon emission rates. During the past year, initiatives were launched to acclaim best practice; beef and dairy farmers showcased progress; and food producers shared their stories of positive customer responses to innovative sustainability initiatives.
As part of this Origin Green initiative, 10 individuals were selected to participate in a two-year programme of education and job placements. Funded jointly by Bord Bia and a number of the leading Irish food and drink businesses, these participants undergo a six-month academic module, exposed to leading-edge thinking on sustainability at the Smurfit graduate business school in UCD.
They are then placed with some of the leading customers and partners of Irish food around the world to fulfil assignments, including working at the head offices of global leaders such as Nestlé, Mars, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Tesco and McDonald’s.
These 10 Origin Green ambassadors share the story of progress of the Irish food and drink sustainability journey, build close relationships with key export customers and further enhance their own expertise. This is a unique programme, creating a cohort of extraordinary talent, future food-sector leaders.
In a world of ever-increasing uncertainty and unexpected developments, we know for certain that the global demand for food and drink will continue to increase, that this growing demand will have to be met in a sustainable manner and that Ireland will continue to invest in positioning itself as a source of food proven to be sustainable and trustworthy.
Michael Carey is managing director of East Coast Bakehouse and chairman of Bord Bia