Underused food and forestry sectors offer potential to boost exports

THE food and forestry sectors are underused and offer great potential to compete internationally and boost exports, according to Engineers of Ireland president Martin Lowery.

Mr Lowery, former chief executive of Coillte during its transformation from a civil service organisation to a successful commercial state company, said Ireland possessed tremendous untapped potential in natural resource-based industries.

“While the development of technology-based sectors remains crucial, our wealth of resources across forestry, food and energy offers us enormous potential for competitive advantage. These natural resources offer the best prospects for an internationally competitive indigenous industry, which is what Ireland badly needs.”

Mr Lowery said tree growing is one of the few areas in which Ireland has inherent competitive advantage due to our temperate climate. It is the undisputed best use for over 17% of Irish land.

Forestry cover is currently just over 9% so it has potential to almost double in size and could spawn a pulp/paper industry if better use was made of this land.

There is also enormous untapped potential in the food industry, as highlighted in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s recent publication “Food Harvest 2020”, which sees the potential to increase primary output by 33% to the value of €1.5 billion.”

Mr Lowery said, while the Government’s policy of focusing on higher value functions was correct, the number of resulting jobs created will not nearly be enough to meet our needs.

“Higher value activities will at best provide jobs for a small proportion of our workforce. Also, the higher value function will generally only locate in major centres while sectors such as food and forestry have the potential to locate in provincial areas and so better support the rural economy.

“But there is a place for traditional manufacturing as well as high value functions. I am of the school of thought that, unless you grow something or make something, you will not have the engine for wealth creation to support the high value service jobs.”

Mr Lowery said the entrepreneurship and the policy supports in evidence during the property boom need to be applied to the exporting sector.


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