Northern Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and Economy Minister Diane Dodds have announced plans to undertake an independent strategic review into the future of the region’s agri-food sector.
The six-month review will consider the challenges facing both the food processing and primary agriculture industries, as well as making recommendations on how to take advantage of new opportunities.
The review dubbed ISRAF, the Independent Strategic Review of the NI Agri-Food Sector, will be led by former National Farmers’ Union president, Sir. Peter Kendall.
Announcing the review, Minister Poots said: “As a result of our new trading arrangements, Covid and Climate Change we are operating in a very different landscape which we must navigate if we are to successfully tackle the challenges each presents. We must also unlock the new opportunities ahead to build a thriving, more sustainable, resilient and profitable agri-food sector.
“The ISRAF will help us do that by providing a sharp, focussed review with recommendations for both the industry and Executive departments informing decision making and policy development.
“Sir. Peter brings decades of valuable experience and personal expertise through his time spent as President of the National Farmers’ Union and chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board [AHDB]. His profile and standing in the UK agri-food industry is an important asset to the review.”
The review team, consisting of Sir. Peter Kendall, Dr. Jonathan Birnie, Julie Robinson, and Dr. Clive Black, will also consider challenges and opportunities including:
- Improving productivity;
- Enhancing economic and environmental sustainability, including carbon footprint;
- Reduced access to migrant labour;
- Increasing the levels of innovation, and research and development;
- Changing market demands for food products;
- Market opportunities;
- The case for regional branding;
- The development of an independent UK Trade policy, and
- Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Minister Dodds stated: “ISRAF will consider the future development of the entire NI agri-food sector, including both farm producers and food processors.
“The review will consider the strategic challenges and opportunities that the sector now faces from Covid-19, consumers trends and new trading arrangements, as well as the development of an independent UK Trade policy. It will make recommendations for both industry and Government.”
Opportunities for the agri-food sector
Sir. Peter Kendall said: “As a farmer, I’m more excited about the future than I have been at any time in my career in the food industry so leading a project that looks at how Northern Ireland agri-food makes the most of its unique position is a real privilege.
“I’m looking forward to hearing from all parts of the supply chain and from stakeholders so that we can come up with a shared, evidence-based vision that is ambitious but doable if we all play our part.
“There’s no denying that the climate change and environmental challenges are massive but they also give NI agri-food a chance to set itself apart as a sector which is rising to those challenges while driving forwards to be internationally competitive.”
Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) Nick Whelan said he was looking forward to working with Sir. Peter.
“Agri-food is a key economic asset to Northern Ireland, accounting for 16% of our entire local economy. Employing some 100,000 people, it is our largest manufacturing industry and one that has continued to grow even as other sectors have sadly contracted,” Whelan said.
“Over the past year, the twin challenges of Brexit and Covid-19 have impacted all industries and society as a whole. These are difficult times, however as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, the focus of government must be on developing a path to recovery for the local economy. Ultimately a strong agri-food sector will be crucial to securing that recovery,” he said.