The Irish Times view on Ireland’s food security: a time for radical shifts

A mixed, well-integrated and climate-savvy agriculture system is vital to give us the resilience to survive in a dangerous world

War in Ukraine, climate change and biodiversity loss all throw our national failure to develop a truly integrated and long-term food security system into painfully sharp relief. It is ironic that, just a year ago, Ireland came second in the Global Food Security Index.

That rating has been revealed as hollow by the dramatic developments of the last week. We depend massively on Ukraine, and Russia, for imports of cereals vital for flour and feedstock. These will be cut off due to the war and sanctions. This led Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to call, rather rashly, on all farmers to grow crops this year. He then met agricultural organisation representatives and set up a fodder and food security committee.

The farming lobbies, keenly aware of the dire repercussions of this supply-chain breakdown, especially for the beef and dairy sectors, are not impressed by the Minister’s response. They demand “urgent action”.

They argue, coherently enough, that tillage farmers are best placed to increase cereal production, and that many other farmers are simply not currently equipped to switch production systems overnight. And they call for cuts in input prices, through further reductions in excise, and indeed in carbon tax.

But the latter demand ignores the reality that food security also requires radical climate action, as our land’s productivity is increasingly degraded by storms, soil degradation, droughts, and flooding.

Moreover, we need to reconsider the policies that have driven our farmers towards such specialised production. A mixed, well-integrated, and ecologically and climate savvy agriculture system, as advocated elsewhere in today’s newspaper, is vital to give us the resilience to survive in an increasingly dangerous world.

It is very troubling that there is precious little evidence that our current political and institutional mindsets have the vision, flexibility and courage required to take this new direction.