A five-step plan to help create around 15,000 new jobs in the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland over the next 10 years has been launched.
The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association hopes its series of measures will grow the local agri-food industry and boost the economy, as well as creating sustainable jobs by 2020 by making it an Executive priority.
The manifesto outlines the contribution made by the sector to the economy, pointing out that every job in the food and drink manufacturing trade supports three additional jobs and that agri-food also generates investment in other areas such as transport.
It explains how 15,000 new jobs could be created as a result of a five-step plan:
- Prioritise agri-food through working with the main stakeholders in the sector including representatives of DARD, DETI, Invest NI and NIFDA to draw up a ‘roadmap’ for the future growth of the sector.
- Support the creation of sustainable jobs, including the establishment of ring-fenced funding to accelerate added value, export-led and sustainable food production.
- Remove barriers to growth including easing the cost of regulatory burden and prioritising the economic case of planning applications — planning needs to be faster.
- Encourage green competitiveness through supporting micro-generation, developing the gas pipeline and cutting electricity costs.
- Help NI food and drink add value through supporting innovation in new products and developing new processes to boost farm and factory productivity.
NIFDA chairman Tony O’Neill said that the sector can now enter a period of sustainable growth if all of the relevant stakeholders come together.
He said: “I am convinced that there is a huge untapped pool of talent and energy, which, if resourced properly and encouraged, will build a significant agri-food industry for the 21st century in Northern Ireland.
“This will bring our children the security and prosperity they need. We are good at food and drink.”
Dominic Darby of the award-winning venison and pork producers Finnebrogue welcomed the manifesto and said a collaborative approach would help enhance the industry and create more jobs.
“We have gone from a small company of 35 to 80 people thanks to investment from Invest NI and the Department of Agriculture,” he said. “The Executive needs to make the agri-food industry a priority.”
The launch of the manifesto comes after a sustained period of lobbying on behalf of the sector, highlighting how agri-food has turned over £3.2bn in the past year, employing 20,000 people directly and supporting 72,000 more in farming and support services.