Ministers Foster and Gildernew ‘Focus on Food’

Pictured launching the strategy are DETI Minister Arlene Foster, Fane Valley Chief Executive Trevor Lockhart - Chair of the Industry Advisory Panel (IAP) and DARD Minister Michelle Gildernew.

Executive Ministers Arlene Foster, MLA Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and Michelle Gildernew, MP MLA, Agriculture and Rural Development, today launched a joint strategy for the local food industry.

Underpinning the new ‘Focus on Food’ strategy is a partnership between the two departments, the Department of Employment and Learning, Invest Northern Ireland and the agri-food industry through the Industry Advisory Panel (IAP), chaired by Trevor Lockhart, Fane Valley Chief Executive.

Following an IAP meeting at Stormont both Ministers paid tribute to the time and commitment invested by industry members under the Chairmanship of Trevor Lockhart in working alongside government to complete this joint strategy.

Arlene Foster said: “The key objective of the new strategy is to establish Northern Ireland as one of the most sustainable and successful food producing regions in Europe. It will build on the outstanding achievements of an industry which has weathered the economic downturn better than virtually every other sector.

“Food and drink has continued to generate wealth for this community by increasing sales outside Northern Ireland and through a commitment to new product development. Innovation, of course, is the lifeblood of our economy. The strategy will seek to encourage and assist companies, both large and small, to invest in their future by focusing significant resources on innovation.

“Our aim is to capitalise on Northern Ireland’s core strengths, including a clean environment, high quality processing plants and skilled people, to build future value growth and development through strengthening the industry’s productivity, sustainability and overall competitiveness.

The Minister added: “This will promote the growth of a strong and resilient food sector that is capable of competing successfully and profitably, especially in international markets.

“The strategy is geared towards profitable, competitive, highly skilled and resilient farming, fishing and food businesses, supported by first class research and development.”

Michelle Gildernew said: “At the heart of the strategy is a commitment to encourage and assist the industry to produce, process and distribute food to feed a growing global population in ways which use the excellent natural resources of this Island sustainably and efficiently. A thriving and sustainable agri-food sector is vital to the development of our rural communities as well as the wider economy.

“The partnership is geared to ensure that all parts of the industry, especially rural communities here, share the benefits that will flow from measures designed to ensure the profitable growth of an industry that already contributes over £3 billion annually to the local economy and provides employment to around 50,000 people in farms and factories,” the Minister added.

The Minister said: “In publishing this strategy today our attention now turns to measuring success. High level performance indicators have been agreed with industry and will be used to measure and monitor outcomes as we implement the strategy.”

Trevor Lockhart, IAP Chair said: “The strategy establishes a shared vision for the agri-food sector which recognises the significant opportunity for further growth. The challenge now is to deliver against the goals and targets set. This will require an on-going partnership approach from industry and Government matched with the necessary resources.

“The industry welcomes the clear strategic focus and is optimistic about the future prospects for food. It is however now vital that the role, importance and opportunity for the sector set out in ‘Focus on Food’ is fully recognised within the wider economic development strategy for Northern Ireland.”