Cork needs to make agrifood dream a reality

I’d like to outline an argument about why Cork city should be a stand-out agrifood industry hub and be recognised as such internationally.

It already has the credentials as a home for pioneering third level food science activities. Its geography contains some of the most progressive farmers in the country, and it is peppered with food processing co-ops and private companies.

It now needs to leverage that legacy by mapping cultural and business activities which establish it as a globally-recognised location of excellence for entrepreneurship and investment in the agrifood world. That status is not very evident at present.

Neither do I hear the international investors our company engages with weekly often reference Cork as a place of importance for the future of the food industry.

Dare I say there is a level of complacency around the Munster agrifood eco-system that is leaving the region below par relative to the potential existing in the sector.

The base camp for any place that has the ambition to be globally recognised as a source of top class food are eating establishments.

That offering should range from high-quality street food outlets all the way to premium restaurants. Such a network of top class food establishments is hard to plot out on a map of Cork city in particular, despite the county having a number of highly-regarded eateries.

Building an over-arching agrifood reputation for Cork requires a series of related events throughout the year.

Event creation of this type includes high profile international conferences on themes related to food; including food safety, tackling obesity, food ingredients and a long list of other linked subjects that should be organised, promoted and arranged each year.

Aside from stimulating visitors it would also help promote the branding of Cork as a centre for all things related to food.

Third level engagement in the food industry around Cork is strong, with universities and Teagasc centres all helping foster generations of new food science graduates.

What is sadly lacking are focused courses that link science-based agrifood academia with the knowledge and skills needed to build agrifood businesses.

The latter needs financial and business professors teaching about the strategic and business model elements required for anyone to evolve as a leader in the global food industry. Such programmes could also attract international students to study in Cork.

We have allowed Ireland to funnel its financial services cores around Dublin and even there it is hard to find any agrifood specialists.

How challenging is it to suggest a global or Irish bank should locate its agrifood experts servicing not just Irish but international customers in Cork? An opportunity exists for the city to seize this profile in an agrifood industry which is growing, globally, and which is a natural strength of our island economy.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking at Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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