9 June 2022
By Mary Bermingham
Food security should be a national priority according to a Cork North Central Fine Gael TD.
Cork North Central Deputy Colm Burke said “We need an urgent national debate on food security involving all stakeholders and the wider community.
“Any analysis of Irish food security must consider as a matter of necessity the production and distribution of basic foodstuffs. These include wheat and other grains for human and animal consumption, dairy and meat products and an extensive range of fruit and vegetables.
“In November Ireland moved up to first position in the world food security rankings, however we cannot become complacent.
“While Ireland is very good at producing dairy products and meat, we are heavily dependent on imports for all other food products. It was very recently revealed for example that Ireland is heavily dependent on seed potato imports from Scotland which are being disrupted because of Brexit. Commercial potato growing acreage has declined by around 50% during the past 30 years and Ireland now imports large quantities of potatoes for daily consumption. During the same period the number of commercial vegetable growers has fallen from over 400 to just over 100 and most vegetables are now also imported.
Deputy Burke continued: “In addition to the decline in commercial tillage farming, small scale family farm domestic food production has largely disappeared. To redress this decline there should be a national policy devoted to developing a sustainable food production and food culture. Grow Our Own Food should be a national motto and national policy. Every farm family in particular, every household with a garden, a yard, a balcony or even a window ledge is capable of growing some food. Local authorities need to provide more land suitable for allotments. There should be an incentive to farmers to lease allotments to urban dwellers. This could provide a new income stream for some farmers.”
Deputy Burke concluded “Producing more of our food closer to home and in our own country is very much in line with a green agenda – less transport and less waste. Developing a food culture in Ireland will need to begin at a young age. Many schools have begun to grow some food; this needs to be further encouraged. Hands on learning of the basics of growing food and the cooking and preservation of food should be part of every school curriculum.”
“With political, energy and other economic uncertainties increasing and in particular the increasing risk of dangerous climate change, a major rethink of Irish food production, supply and distribution is now an urgent necessity.
“The war in Ukraine and the economic sanctions on Russia and Belarus which followed have highlighted major economic vulnerabilities, not only in the energy sector but also in terms of food supply.
“Russia and Belarus are also important players in fertiliser supply chains. And critically Ukraine and Russia are significant suppliers of wheat on international markets, accounting for 30% of wheat traded on these markets. The blockade of Ukrainian ports by the Russian navy and sanctions on Russian grain exports have contributed to a dramatic increase in grain prices all across the world; rapidly rising bread prices is the inevitable consequence. There is now a very real risk of food shortages, particularly in the Middle East and in parts of Africa dependent on grain and fertiliser from Ukraine and Russia.
“The Irish food sector is now fully integrated into international supply chains with a very high dependency on imported food. There is now an urgent need for the government, the agricultural sector and the food sector to have an in-depth analysis of Ireland’s food security and how it might be strengthened.
“A sustained effort will be required building the knowledge, skills, capacity and the will needed to make food production and food security a national priority.”