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Independent.ie

Sunday 4 December 2016

Agri-food plays a huge part in Irish economy

Declan O'Brien

Published 25/10/2011 | 05:00

IT'S been a bad week on the jobs front, with the decision by Aviva to slash its workforce, piling hundreds more on the dole queues. However, a paper presented by David Meredith to the 250 delegates at the National Rural Development Conference in Athlone last week offered some hope.

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Using figures from the Mitchelstown local labour market, Mr Meredith's paper illustrated the importance of the agri-food sector to the rural economy.

He told delegates that the 2006 Census showed there were 671 farmers in the Mitchelstown area. The area had 116 enterprises processing farm products, selling inputs and providing a wide range of services to farmers.

When the total number of jobs associated with the agri-food industry in the Mitchelstown labour market area was added up, they accounted for an estimated 25pc of employment.

He said population patterns from the census showed that the agri-food sector accounted for between 10pc and 20pc of total employment in large parts of Munster, the mid-west, west midlands and across Connacht, Cavan and Monaghan. While the numbers directly involved in agriculture have continued to fall, Mr Meredith's research confirms the continuing importance of farming to the rural economy.

And that potential is not confined to food production.

Padraig Casey from Ballyhoura Development told the conference that more than 40,000 bikers will visit the Ballyhoura Mountain Bike Trail this year. Mr Casey said the trail has led to the development of bike rental and repair shops and tuition companies along the trail. It has also given a big boost to accommodation providers and other services in the area.

However, there are worrying developments on the funding front. Prof Alan Matthews warned in Athlone that Ireland could struggle to hold on to its share of CAP rural development budget, because we are now competing for funding with much poorer rural areas in the new Member States.

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But the blame for funding difficulties doesn't stop at Brussels. We're making the problem worse for ourselves because of a lack of joined up thinking by Government departments, and the lack of urgency in resolving Leader food production funding. This has left small food producers -- many whom are trying to keep up to 20 people employed -- totally frustrated.

Unfortunately, farming and rural tourism won't save the economy or solve the unemployment problem, but they must be key planks within any national strategy. Food and tourism businesses help create sustainable jobs in areas where opportunities are limited. They deserve more support.

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