Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle O’Neill, today outlined the role that agri-food sector can play in driving export led growth in the local economy.
The Minister was speaking as she attended a meeting of the Executive Sub-Committee on the Economy. At the meeting the Minister outlined a number of key points on how the agri food sector can make a contribution to rebalancing the economy, delivering jobs and promoting prosperity.
She said: “First of all, the agri-food sector has shown itself to be a strong and resilient sector. It has weathered the recession superbly well, but looking beyond that, it has been delivering solid growth for the past decade, despite major competitive pressures. That growth has all been generated from external markets, so it offers an excellent platform from which to build.
“Secondly, this is a sector which has exciting opportunities for growth. There is an increasing awareness of the projections for global population growth, the rising demands from the rapidly growing economies such as China and India and the increasing pressures on agricultural production systems around the world to try and keep pace with rising demands. All of this creates significant opportunities for our local industry, not just directly, but in terms of the knock on effects to existing markets.
“Thirdly, this is a sector that is deeply embedded within our economy. Recent research has demonstrated that for every job created in food and drinks processing, a further two are created elsewhere the economy. That is quite a bit higher than for many other industries. Therefore, growth in the agri-food sector will stimulate significant growth elsewhere in our economy.
“The fourth key point is that the agri-food sector is almost entirely located outside of the Greater Belfast Area. Therefore, it can make a hugely important contribution to delivering balanced sub-regional growth and can deliver jobs and prosperity to parts of our economy that other sectors simply can’t or won’t match.
“My fifth point almost goes without saying - we need jobs; not just jobs at the top end of the spectrum but jobs for all parts of society and for all levels of skill and educational attainment. We can’t leave anybody behind in our drive for economic growth. The agri-food sector can provide a broad spectrum of jobs. The average wage in the processing industry is at least as good as the average across the private sector as a whole. Agri-food can provide exactly the kinds of jobs we need now, today.
“Finally, in my view, investing in the likes of education, skills, innovation and research right across the economy are all exactly the right things to do to drive the economy. We have to do this, and indeed we are doing this in agri-food. It is an investment in our economic future, but the benefits will inevitably take time to come through in full. However, I believe that the agri-food sector is well placed to deliver relatively quick returns on investment.”
The Minister concluded: “This is a strong sector with excellent prospects, a sector that can stimulate jobs and growth right across the north and a sector that it keen to grow. I am convinced that the time is right for government and industry to come together to grab the opportunity that sits before us.”