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O’Neill: Agri-food sector vital to the economy

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill today outlined her plans for developing growth within the agri-food sector.
Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Minister was speaking as she addressed the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee to discuss the agri-food sector’s role in the economy. She said: "I have consistently stated my belief that the focus for the wider economy moving forward must be to ensure sustainable growth that can create jobs. The key to this is through the type of export-led growth already demonstrated by the agri-food sector.”

The Minister went on to outline to the Committee that she was working closely with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and Invest NI to establish a Food Strategy Board, made up of industry representatives, with an independent Chair. The key role of this Board, working alongside Government, will be to take the existing strategy to the next level, developing challenging targets for growth and development in the longer term.

The Minister said: "The agri-food sector has demonstrated an ability to continue to grow, even in the current economic downturn and of course, it continues to be a major employer. I believe there are further opportunities for growth with new global markets developing and expanding and I have no doubt that the agriculture sector is capable of meeting the additional demand that this would create. However, it needs to be a team effort with DARD, DETI, Invest NI and DEL, who each have a remit within the agri-food sector.

"We have good foundations to build on, both in terms of close working with industry, but also the food strategy – Focus on Food which was produced last year. We now need to take this to the next level and develop a longer term strategy which sets a clear export-led pathway for expansion."

In conclusion, the Minister said: “I am committed to support the sector in its efforts to grow further and that my Department will continue to work alongside other Executive Departments and industry to maximise the potential of this crucial part of our economy.

“The Committee also has an important role to play and I would encourage them to support our efforts which share the common goal of wanting a sustainable and thriving agri-food sector.”

Notes to editors:

1. Further statistics on the performance of the Sector are available from DARD’s “Size and Performance of the NI Food & Drinks Processing Sector” report, which is available on the DARD website.

2. For media enquiries please contact DARD Press Office 028 9052 4619 or pressoffice.group@dardni.gov.uk Out of hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.