‘Independent strategic review’ to examine future of NI’s agri-food sector

Northern Ireland Economy Minister Dianne Dodds has revealed intentions to launch an independent strategic review on the future of Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector.

Minister Dodds made the announcement tonight (February 9) while speaking at the Food, Farming and Land Convention – a two-day conference examining the future of sustainable farming and land management practices in Northern Ireland.

“In my opinion, a thriving, sustainable agri-food sector is a must to achieving a regionally-balanced economy,” Dodds said.

“The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has agreed to commission an independent strategic review considering the future development of the Northern Ireland agri-food sector.”

This review will consider the challenges and opportunities facing the sector, with a specific focus on:

  • Productivity,
  • Enhancing economic and environmental sustainability;
  • Improving our carbon footprint;
  • Changing market demands for food products; and
  • Recovery from the pandemic.

“It is also important that we also our flexible and adaptable and I am absolutely convinced that the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland is all of those things,” she said.

This is a sector that has kept our food factories going, produced food for our communities and in many ways, we are a huge exporter of food into the GB market – all of these things are hugely important.

“We want to strengthen the sector, grow the sector and of course, we are very, very proud of the safe, traceable food that the sector produces.”

She joined food rights academic Michael Fakhri; Stormont Agriculture chairman Declan McAleer; and James Elliott, a senior civil servant within the Department of Communities, working on the department’s Access to Food team on the panel.

Hitting hospitality hardest

Minister Dodds explained that the number of income support claimants in Northern Ireland had doubled since February 2020, reaching 100,000 people.

“Around a third of those are from the tourism and hospitality sectors,” Dodds explained. “This has been a very significant and difficult period for the Northern Ireland economy.

“That is of significant concern for us and show us how Covid has thrown the economy a curveball.”

Dodds added that she also intends to launch an “economic recovery action plan” for Northern Ireland over the coming weeks.