Supports needed to transform to sustainable agriculture, report finds

22 July 2021

A transformation and investment in Irish agriculture is necessary to meet sustainable food system ambition, an Oxfam and Trócaire report found.

Published in advance of the UN Food Systems pre-meetings, the report assessed the Irish government’s ambition to be a ‘champion’ of sustainable food systems at a global stage. The report put forward 22 recommendations to improve sustainability in agriculture.

With ‘complex interactions’ between agriculture and food systems, the report found that there are interconnected challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity in the sector.

“A transformation is needed whereby food policies are centred on human rights, social equity, women’s empowerment, economic security and prosperity, environmental regeneration and resilience building to climate change and other shocks,” Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra said.  

The report addresses both international and domestic challenges to agriculture, and proposes solutions. These organisations advocate support to small-scale food producers globally through sustainable transformation.

Further, Ireland’s trade and sustainable development objectives are ‘out of sync’ and policy decisions to prioritise agri-food trade objectives are at the detriment to sustainable development goals, according to the report.

“There is a critical need for agriculture and food system transformation to prevent already at-risk communities falling into deeper peril.” Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken added.

Policy Recommendations

Agriculture accounts for at least 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland. The report recognised an opportunity to shift agricultural approaches and recommended that an urgent review of national agri-food policies to reflect the emissions reduction target.

Other recommendations from the report include an establishment of a national sustainable food systems body that would provide a space for stakeholder’s voices to be included in decision-making. It also calls on a scaling up of programmes with clear environmental objectives and investment in rural communities.

If implemented, it could help support Irish farmers shift into sustainable practices, as the report also found current supports to encourage sustainable farming inadequate.

At present, 81 per cent of national agricultural funding is directed towards projects that are not described as sustainable. In some cases, farmers are even penalised for their efforts to support biodiversity, according to the authors.

Despite these shortcomings in Irish agriculture, Sustainable Food Systems report researcher and author Sinead Mowlds, stressed that “Ireland has a real opportunity to forge a new direction in implementing a sustainable food systems approach if it is willing to address current shortcomings and make necessary adjustments.”

Story by Sam Starkey