The agri-food sector is Ireland’s oldest and largest indigenous industry, comprising 137,000 farms, 2,000 fishing vessels, 770,000 hectares of land, and 180 aquaculture sites.
In 2020, it was worth €14.2 billion – a 59.55 per cent increase from 2010. Made up of primary agriculture, food and drink processing and manufacturing, fisheries, aquaculture and fish processing, forestry and associated processing, and the equine sector, it employs approximately 164,000 people – 7 per cent of total employment.
The Food Vision 2030 Strategy is a 10-year plan released by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine focusing on ensuring Ireland becomes a world leader in sustainable food systems.
Tom Arnold, chair of the 2030 Agri-Food Strategy Stakeholder Committee, writes in the foreword, “While the primary purpose of this strategy is to provide a vision and policies for the Irish agri-food sector over the coming decade, it has an important international dimension. Ireland is one of very few countries to have developed an agri-food strategy using a food systems approach.”
The strategy aims to ensure that the agri-food sector meets the highest standards of sustainability across economic, environmental and social levels. The strategy recognises the interconnection between policies for food, the environment and health, and that all parts of the food chain – from “farm to fork” – play a vital role in developing our food system.
Ireland aims to become a global leader of innovation for sustainable food and agriculture systems, “producing safe, nutritious and high-value food that tastes great, while protecting and enhancing our natural and cultural resources and contributing to vibrant rural and coastal communities and the national economy”. This should give Ireland a competitive advantage globally.
According to the report, “global demand for high quality food is increasing with population, urbanisation and affluence, and the Irish agri-food sector is well placed to play a role in meeting this demand.” The strategy is made up of 22 goals grouped into four high-level missions outlined below.
The four missions aim to create “a climate smart, environmentally sustainable agri-food sector”, “viable and resilient primary producers with enhanced wellbeing”, “food which is safe, nutritious and appealing, trusted and valued at home and abroad” and “an innovative, competitive and resilient agri-food sector, driven by technology and talent”.
Mission one: Environmental sustainability
The strategy builds on previous agri-food strategies such as Food Wise 2025, which highlighted the importance of environmental sustainability, but adds a new level of centrality and commitment. One such objective is to achieve a climate-neutral food system by 2050, with verifiable progress reached by 2030.
Mission two: Happy campers
Ensuring that food producers are viable and resilient with enhanced well-being is an area “which offer(s) the best tools for improving economic viability…” according to the report. “Farmers can bolster their financial and economic sustainability by focusing on efficiencies, embracing new, diversified systems of agriculture; meeting standards required for greater premiumisation that can offer higher market returns; and being rewarded for the delivery of a range of eco-system services.”
Mission three: Safe and nutritious food
Due to increasing demand for higher standards in food as well as natural, sustainably produced food, an increase in consumer demand for vegan or “flexitarian” choices, as well as strong growth in the sale of milk and meat alternatives, the strategy outlines how to ensure these rising expectations are met at home and abroad.
Mission four: Technology and talent
Innovation is key to sustainability in the agri-food sector, which has been embracing technology and innovation. A wide range of new digital innovations and data capture and analysis techniques will emerge in the period to 2030, which will change the way natural assets are managed, how food and its byproducts and residues are produced, processed and distributed, and improve transparency along the food chain.
Looking to the future, Tom Arnold writes, “This strategy may be for the 2020s but, in all likelihood, it will provide the foundation stones upon which the strategies for subsequent decades will be built.”