Agriculture could be the key ingredient to help Northern Ireland become the New Zealand of the northern hemisphere, it has been claimed.
Northern Ireland’s Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster made the claim during a speech at the Balmoral Show yesterday as she outlined her vision for the future.
She was addressing food and drink sector leaders at an Ulster Bank-hosted lunch at the three-day show.
She said Northern Ireland's food and drink sector has already displayed a strong resilience against the effects of the recession and has demonstrated increasing trading confidence over the past six months.
The minister outlined a series of predictions of how global food production is expected to struggle to keep pace with population growth in the years to come.
“More food will have to be produced in the next 50 years than the last 10,000 years combined,” she said.
Experts have predicted a “perfect storm” where food and water shortages will unleash conflict around the world in the future.
But she said she expected the food and drink sector to become an even stronger linchpin of the local economy in the years ahead.
“The importance of the food and drink sector will strengthen as we face the looming challenges of food security, sustainability and the effects of climate change,” she said.
“My Department and Invest NI are working closely with the industry on measures to help improve its performance, especially in areas such as productivity, external sales, marketing, innovation, supply chain development, overall capability, and energy and waste. By increasing premium, natural food production we can propel our economy in to a new era. In a world facing shortage and decline in food production, our own landscape and the skills of our people have the potential to deliver a virtual goldmine of future prosperity.
“Like New Zealand, I would like to see Northern Ireland boxing well above its weight,” she said. “It will be necessary to internationally benchmark these proposals against other countries, such as New Zealand whose economic involvement strongly focuses on food, tourism and the knowledge economy.”