Northern Ireland farming industry needs totally transformed: report
A new report looking at the future of the Northern Ireland agricultural industry says a complete transformation is needed if the industry is meet the challenges posed by climate change.
'Lay of the Land', to be launched at Hillsborough Castle tonight by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, will outline the need for a radical rethink on food, farming and the countryside.
The report argues for new focus on producing good healthy food, restoring biodiversity, a movement to a green economy, and a better deal for Northern Irish farmers, citing fears over the climate emergency and the loss of biodiversity as the reasons changes must be made.
Lay of the Land is the Northern Ireland-focused report of the work of the RSA's pan-UK Food Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC).
It says Northern Ireland's unique history and environment must be at the heart of a new approach to farming - an approach which "conserves soils, eliminates pollution, restores biodiversity and reduces carbon emissions".
It calls for a transition to a safe, secure and inclusive food and farming system, a flourishing rural economy and a sustainable and accessible countryside.
The report recommends a programme of continuing and extensive public engagement, and Patrick Casement, chair of the FFCC Northern Ireland Inquiry, said action is needed now.
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"Climate change and biodiversity loss are existential threats that require us to take urgent action," he said.
"We need to fundamentally reconsider the purpose of the complex food and farming system that governs so much of our health, our environment, our economy and our way of life.
"We need to build trust between everyone involved so that we can find practical ways forward to a safe and secure future.
"Northern Ireland may be a small place on the edge of Europe but our obligations to contribute to tackling these threats are essentially the same as in any jurisdiction in the developed world.
"Unfortunately, we have a very poor record in meeting these obligations, partly because of past preoccupations with healing the damage of years of conflict, and partly because of inadequate policies and structures to deliver them."
He added: "Over the past two and a half years this situation has been exacerbated by the absence of a devolved government which has severely hampered the development of the new policies and strategies required in a post-Brexit world.
"This political vacuum means that as a society we have to find other ways of addressing the key issues."
The report has been welcomed by Dr Denis McMahon, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).
"This report complements DAERA's vision of 'A living working active landscape, valued by everyone'," he said.
"It raises many important points and challenges, including climate change, loss of biodiversity and the need to deliver safe and affordable food which we collectively must address as we seek to build the future of our agriculture and food sector."
Sue Pritchard, FFCC Commission RSA director, said it had been vital to hear public views on the future.
"The Northern Ireland inquiry focused on the critical issues; how to mitigate and adapt to climate change and restore biodiversity; how to improve the public's health and wellbeing; and how to build on and develop Northern Ireland's distinctive pattern of farming to play its full part in responding to these challenges," she said.
"Most importantly and impressively, the leadership group were determined to hear citizens' voices - especially those often unheard."