Work by Irish missionaries and lay volunteers in bringing education, health and other services to people in countries worldwide is beyond praise.
Young people including doctors, nurses, carpenters, teachers, electricians, builders, and others have also been willing taken time out from their careers to bring their skills and expertise to projects in far-flung places.
Here at home, people generously support funding appeals by voluntary groups through church-gate collections, flag days, donations and organised events.
Schoolchildren and corporate Ireland alike also consistently support these worthy causes.
Even the mite boxes on checkout counters in supermarkets, pubs and shops regularly rattle with the sound of small change being deposited by customers willing to help the work being in some of the poorest places on earth.
Two weeks ago, aid agency Bóthar flew 5,300 food- and income-producing animals to Rwanda in a five-day mission led by All-Ireland winning Dublin senior football manager Jim Gavin.
Bóthar Ark was the fitting name for the biggest ever multi-species airlift from Ireland and the largest of its kind in the world. The live cargo comprised 37 in-calf heifers, three bulls for the Rwandan government’s national bovine breeding scheme, 160 pigs, 100 goats, and 5,000 chicks.
Donor farmers in Ireland brought the animals to Roscrea Mart in Co Tipperary ahead of the 12-hour flight from Shannon Airport to Kigali in Rwanda.
Jim Gavin wrote: “It was humbling, to say the least to meet them. Men and women in what is a very challenging year for farming, particularly dairying. Yet, there they were, handing over in-calf heifers worth up to €1,800 perhaps.
“The question did enter my head how many of us, in circumstances where we are barely making ends meet, would find it within ourselves to hand over something of that value. Others gave goats, pigs and chicks; many, many more donated money to buy them.”
Successive governments, on behalf of the people, also regularly subscribe to development projects and relief works world wide. Spending on overseas aid will increase by €10m next year to €651m.
However, a new voluntary multi-disciplinary platform has been formed to harness something else — the knowledge and expertise of Irish agriculture — to help the efforts to reduce hunger and poverty in the developing world.
The Irish Forum for International Agricultural Development aims to bring together people from the agri-food, agricultural research, and international development sectors to share knowledge and good practices.
It has a vision to transform the livelihoods of people living in poverty in the developing world through initiatives which support resilient, equitable and sustainable agriculture, and increase food and nutrition security.
A tangible example of what can be achieved is the successful trialling in Eritrea, one of Africa’s poorest countries, of a potato variety shipped from Ireland. It was introduced by Teagasc, the Irish Potato Industry, Gorta-Self Help Africa, Vita and others.
They have also provided their Eritrean counterparts with technical support and assistance. Early results show that potato yields have tripled for Eritrean farmers.
Agricultural development has the power to reduce global poverty and under-nutrition while transforming the lives of millions of people.
While productivity continues to rise globally, there is still a significant gap in reaching optimum potential yields in many developing countries. Yields have even declined in parts of Africa.
Ireland itself has also undergone significant changes in its agriculture sector in the past 50 years, driven by research and technology-driven innovation.
Farming is still crucial to Ireland’s economy and agri-food remains the most important indigenous sector, providing primary employment for 170,000 people.
Challenges remain however, which are as relevant to Ireland as they are to many other countries, with emphasis on climate change, rising energy costs, food insecurity and rural decline.
Gorta-Self Help Africa chief executive Ray Jordan said upwards of 70% of people in the developing world directly rely on farming for their survival.
“If even a fraction of the learning and successes of Irish agriculture could be transposed to Africa and other poorer regions, it would lift many millions of people out of extreme poverty,” said Mr Jordan.
Founding members of Irish Forum for International Agricultural Development are the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Irish Aid, Teagasc and the Agri-Science departments at NUI Galway, UCC and UCD. Others include Gorta-Self Help Africa, Vita, Concern Worldwide, Trocaire, and Misean Cara.
Sustainable Food Systems Ireland and Greenfield International as well as the IFA, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association and Macra na Feirme are also founding members.
At the launch minister of state Joe McHugh said bringing together agricultural and development expertise in this way is a great opportunity.
“The Irish Forum for International Agricultural Development will help us to collectively strengthen our partnerships and continue our work to eradicate hunger and poverty,” he said.
Guest speakers at the launch included Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director, International Food Polich Research Institute, and Paul Winters, director, UN International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Forum chair Lance O’Brien, Teagasc head of strategy and international relations, said the initiative will allow Irish farming knowledge, expertise, and commitment to be harnessed to deliver a more focused impact on addressing the challenge of food security.
Charles Spillane, Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre at NUI Galway said the forum is a much needed initiative.
“It has the potential to bring a more co-ordinated, coherent and impact-oriented approach to Irish agricultural policies, programmes, research and training focused on reducing poverty in developing nations,” said Prof Spillane.