In recent years there has been an over-commitment of Government / EU resources into the raw material supply-base of the few major processor-exporters. National agri-food strategy has placed too much emphasis on increasing processor throughput to reduce processing costs in the hope that commodity exports will be competitive. Sadly, the Government continues to lock in this policy.
Concurrently, too little focus has been placed upon maintaining and improving farm incomes. In addition, too little policy has been targeted at local foods processing to create local-to-farm and on-farm employment with the result that there is little foods-based, rurally-distributed employment.
The net result is a conflict within the agri-foods policy between the interests of the agro-industrial food processors on the one hand and family farms and the needs of rural Ireland on the other.
An objective of the Foundation is to see a significant premium foods sector develop in Ireland. Given what premium-paying consumers expect of fine foods, this will have to come from a more artisanal food-processing sector than currently exists. The products wlll also have to have strong quality and origin credentials. A major problem, however, is the lack of investment that has been made into this segment of the industry. Processing has become so centralized that there are few consumer foods products with traceable links to the farm. A situation evidenced by the lack of Irish-labelled food products on UK shelves even though the UK is Ireland’s major export market.
To begin to rectify this situation will require investment in new processing capacity and new routes to market for premium-quality food products. Given how little that has happened in recent years and how far the sector has to go, there is a strong case for offering grant aid to those who wish to invest in the premium-foods supply chain [and to create spatially-diverse rural employment there within]. The Foundation will seek to play a proactive role in facilitating access to such grant aid.