Chris Hazzard MLA - agriculture - Ard Fheis
A Chairde agus a chomradaithe,
In Ireland the Agri-food sector is one of our economies most important sectors.
In the south it has an annual output of over 24 billion euro and employs some 150,000 people. In the north it has annual output of £5.4 billion and employs 55,000 people.
The Agri-food sector is an export led sector that has demonstrated a strong track record of growth even through this recession, with external sales increasing in value by 45% over the last 10 years in the north.
Inputs to the food and drinks sector are mainly sourced from local agriculture and as a result the multiplier impacts of growth in this sector are considerable.
For every job created in the food and drinks sector, a further 3 jobs are created in the wider regional economy. Moreover the sector plays a significant role in ensuring balanced sub-regional growth, with jobs in the food and drinks processing sector largely located outside of major cities such as Belfast and Dublin.
The food and drinks sector has weathered the recession better than many other sectors. While between 2007 and 2011 the retailing and hospitality sectors here were squeezed by the fall in consumer spending and the number of construction jobs fell by 26%, employment in food and drink processing increased by 6%, with 1,100 additional jobs being created in the six counties alone.
In addition the global human population is growing rapidly and is projected to increase by 1 billion by 2030 and 2 billion by 2050. It is also becoming increasingly urbanised and more affluent, with diets switching increasingly towards products that we produce so well in Ireland, such as meat and dairy products.
There are also the growing environmental challenges coming from climate change, water shortages and soil depletion which are starting to impinge on other producing regions of the world but much less so here. Consequently, demand and supply side factors are very much tipping in favour of country such as ours.
Industry and Government, north and south, share a common goal of wanting to support and develop the Agri-food sector. I believe that we have good foundations to build on, not only in terms of our collaborative approach, but also in taking forward the new Agri-Food Strategy towards 2020 which will be developed by the industry led Board established by Michelle O Neill.
In order to stimulate the economy and create jobs, one of the key sectors for investment is agriculture and the Agri-food sector. This is one of the key sectors that can lead this country towards economic recovery. We intend to work towards in the Executive in the north; I would call on the Government in the south to do the same.