€220,000 GMIT project aims to help farmers add value to their business

The Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) has been awarded €220,000 of EU funding for a project which aims to develop entrepreneurial skills in farming and add value to farm businesses.

The project, called ‘Creating Entrepreneurs in Food’ (CEF), is hoping to build food innovation and entrepreneurship-focused rural communities and economies in the west of Ireland.

Funding was sourced from the European Erasmus+ Key Action 2 Fund and was allocated to Dr Lisa Ryan and Maria McDonagh of the GMIT Department of Natural Sciences, School of Science and Computing.

Ryan and McDonagh are leading the EU project as part of the rural development strand of the Europe 2020 growth strategy.

They will lead a consortium of academic and industry expertise in achieving the project targets, strengthening its international links and boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in rural communities.

Collaborating with a number of European partners, the project will hopefully also develop a model for the rest of Ireland and Europe to follow, Ryan said.

“The project will look at anybody producing food and will aim to help farmers add value to their business and generate higher profits,” she said.

The two year project is set to examine current food supply chains in Europe in a bid to identify innovative methods and help deliver a short food supply process.

It is hoped a shortened food supply process, or farm to fork, could help cut costs for the small producer while fostering collaboration with other like-minded food entrepreneurs.

The project will also include a training course for food producers aimed at providing ‘soft’ skills that will empower them to keep control of their business, promote innovation,create employment and move up the value chain.

An online web portal will also be developed to encourage the exchange of knowledge and best practice between education and enterprises allowing food producers to connect and collaborate with one another.

Set to begin in January 2017, the project will see GMIT academics and leading food entrepreneurs build relationships, host a series of events, conduct surveys and pilot the training programme with food producers in Ireland and Europe.

A core theme of the project will be to connect farmers, food producers, enterprise and education, both on a  national and international level.

“With the agri-food sector being the largest indigenous industry in Ireland, we are very well equipped with high calibre academic and industry expertise in this country to lead a project of this nature.

“It is a privilege for Ireland and in particular GMIT to have the opportunity to actively contribute to the development of Europe’s rural economies and to Europe 2020 growth strategy,” Ryan said.

GMIT will work with three European partners and local food entrepreneurs including Brendan Allen (Castlemine Farms and Larder 360) and Ronan Byrne (‘The Friendly Farmer’) who will be involved in all aspects of the project.

Based in the UK, Belgium and Poland, the partner organisations will provide access to the greater European target group, which will encourage knowledge sharing on an international level, Ryan said.