Irish farmers and their representative organisations and training bodies can play a significant role in tackling global issues and in sharing their skills and knowledge, according to the President Michael D. Higgins.

He said that today, 70% of the planet’s food insecure population lives in rural areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Near East. “Many of them are family farmers, especially smallholders, with poor access to markets, policies, technologies and natural resources, notably water. Such blatant inequalities in food distribution between continents and, within countries, between urban and rural areas, are a concern for all of us.”

Irish farmers and their representatives can help change this, he said.

He aslo said that it is time to forcefully challenge what is, in his view, a flawed assumption – the idea that modernisation and socio-economic progress require urbanisation.

“I believe, conversely, that sustainable rural development offers a viable alternative to massive rural flight, which too often feeds the mushrooming of shanty towns on the edge of cities.”

He also said that in the area of environmental protection, family farms provide a vital public service in maintaining the health of ecosystems, in providing protection for water quality and in safeguarding endangered habitats and species.

“Within the EU, for example, substantial financial supports are provided to help farmers to continue undertaking their activities in harmony with nature, and without damaging the natural capital on which we all depend.”

He said the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss must be key considerations for the farming community and efforts must be made to identify how the sector can most effectively contribute, both both locally and globally, to emission reduction endeavours.