THE Government has been urged to fast-track its Food Harvest 2020 proposals to take advantage of the increase in Europe’s population to over a half a billion.
Labour’s food and agriculture spokesman Sean Sherlock made the call after Eurostat announced this week that the EU’s population, as of January 1, 2010, was logged at 501.1 million.
This compared with 499.7 million a year earlier, with the highest birth rates recorded in Ireland, Britain and France, and the lowest in Germany and Austria.
Mr Sherlock said more people means more demand for food. If the world’s population is to increase to nine billion by 2050 from 6.8 billion today, more mouths must be fed. Ireland is well placed to increase the yield from agriculture.
“However, an ageing sector, only 13% is under the age of 35, with average farm sizes of 33 hectares, will put us at a disadvantage in terms of maximising export-led growth to meet higher demands for food.
“The Government’s Food Harvest 2020 policy will be hindered unless structural changes occur to encourage greater participation rates by younger farmers,” he said.
Mr Sherlock said there has been a lot of talk about applying ‘smart economy’ techniques to agriculture to assist in economic renewal.
Part of the target set by the Government to achieve €12bn in exports by 2020 could be achieved by a more coordinated approach to encouraging new entrants into the market.
“The proposals in relation to the dissemination of new knowledge are welcome. Agencies like Teagasc, the Marine Institute, the universities and other third-level institutions have a crucial role to play.
“However it will be extremely difficult to teach an old dog new tricks in an ageing sector unless we can encourage younger people into agriculture,” he said, adding that many farmers who are close to retirement now will never embrace new techniques or challenges.
Fine Gael spokesman on agriculture, fisheries and food Andrew Doyle said capital spending on agriculture as announced in the Government’s review makes a mockery of Food Harvest 2020.
The capital spending plan for agriculture appears to be a wind-down of existing programmes and shows how hollow are the Government’s words that the agri-food sector could be at the forefront of economic recovery.
Mr Doyle said the 2009 capital spend for the sector had been cut by €116m in 2010 and will be reduced to less than a third of the 2009 spend by 2012.
“The absence of strategic investment in the agri-food sector is no way to stimulate growth and job creation in an industry which should be at the heart of any export-led recovery,” he said.
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