Access and funding jeopardising growth
The growth of Northern Ireland's emerging independent food producers is being stifled by poor communications, excessive bureaucracy and a lack of co-ordination among government agencies, according to an international report.
The EU-funded research on food policy showed the food sector is innovative and ambitious but that access to funding and support is jeopardising growth.
The Local Food as an Engine for Local Business (LOCFOOD) report was published by Ulster Business School at the University of Ulster.
Professor Barry Quinn, one of the report's authors, said the project has revealed the need for closer co-operation and understanding between small and micro food businesses and the public agencies appointed to help them.
"The small food production sector is one of the most promising industries in Northern Ireland," he said. "We have proven our export mettle through the successes of the larger food producers but the future lies in growing the small businesses who represent the next generation and who have the potential to develop into larger businesses.
"Without them, our local food culture and food tourism potential will be severely diminished and long term export successes and gains may be shortlived."
He said the report's authors had identified barriers to growth. "Excessive bureaucracy and associated costs are viewed by the surveyed business owners as detrimental and the prohibitive cost of engagement with knowledge providers and trade associations is also cited – while the lack of an integrated approach to delivery of support by public agencies has caused confusion on how to obtain support and where to find it," Prof Quinn added.
The LOCFOOD project has helped small food and drink producers gain access to support and is currently working with agencies in Northern Ireland to explore how lessons from initiatives from other European regions may be implemented locally.