The Irish government has unveiled ambitious plans to intensify sustainable food production for export. The aim is to boost its economy and help remedy food shortages around the world.
Speaking during a media visit on sustainability organised by the Irish food Board Bord Bia, last week (September 12), Ireland’s minister of agriculture Simon Coveney said: “We have ambitious targets that are alien to the thinking of other European countries, which see agriculture and food as a stagnant industry.
“We’re convinced that agriculture and agrifood will be a real driver for sustainable growth in Ireland over the next 10–50 years.”
Coveney said the Irish ambition for sustainable intensification of food production was about producing more food, while managing the environment at the same time.
The two big factors were greenhouse gas emissions and water management.
Ireland’s high levels of rainfall provide sufficient green water for food processing and enable animals to be grass-fed for eight months of the year. Not only is this a more natural way to rear animals, it eliminates the carbon emissions that would otherwise have been involved in producing and transporting animal feed, it was claimed.
Coveney said: “By 2030 – which is fewer than two decades away – the world will need 50% more food, 30% more water and 50% more energy to meet the lifestyle aspirations that consumers in the developing world aspire to.
“Rapid economic development and the urbanisation of populations mean consumers in the developing world are demanding the kind of protein-based diets – involving dairy and meat – that we take for granted in Europe.”
Ireland currently produces enough dairy products to feed 10 times its population and exports 85% of its food and drink products.
Coveney said further intensification of production would enable the country to export even more than this to help meet food shortages elsewhere in the globe.
He called for the relaxation of food quotas to enable countries with the capacity to produce more food to do so.
By the end of 2014, Coveney wants 75% of the food and drink that comes out of Ireland to have come through its Origin Green initiative.
This means food and drink producers will have signed up to a sustainability charter that measures their environmental efficiency. The data is then used to provide overseas customers with hard evidence that Ireland is a green and natural environment in which to produce food and drink.
Coveney said: “The beauty of this is that if we can help farmers to upscale what they do in terms of sustainability, it will benefit them in terms of sales. That is why farmers are buying into this new way of thinking.
“There are new markets that want to buy Irish products because of the sustainability story and the data that we have now collected to prove it.”