President Michael D Higgins has questioned whether agricultural subsidies have done enough to capture the goodwill of farmers to farm in a manner that benefits the environment.
Speaking at the National Biodiversity conference in Dublin, President Higgins said that the assessment of current agricultural policies “has been fairly weak” and that it is up to our domestic politicians and the EU to create policies that allow farmers to manage the land sustainably.
“I wonder too are we making the best use of the significant level of public money that we are spending on environmental measures and whether we are doing enough to harness the goodwill of farmers to protect the environment and can we improve this?”
“The assessment of the benefits of existing farming subsides has been fairly weak. Farmers and foresters must be clearly encouraged away from damaging practices and encouraged to farm in harmony with nature and in this regard there is a critical role of the EU Commission and for our own politicians to create a context for farmers to move quickly towards truly sustainable agriculture.
“There's a huge difference when a farmer can say that they are doing this because they believe it is the right thing to do and being able to tell you why they are drawing on the detail of scheme and the ancient practices that bond him and his ancestors to nature.”
President Higgins pointed out that the corncrake and curlew which were once “integral sounds of the countryside have been pushed to the edge of extinction” and that the hen harrier is under pressure from forestry and wind farms and noted the damage that has been done to bogs.
“Our raised and blanket bogs have been systematically degraded by repeat extraction, drainage and inappropriate tree planting,” he said.
President Higgins stated that if Ireland doesn't change its mindset, it won't be able to achieve sustainable development and added that we are currently in the middle of a “terrestrial crisis”
“We have to ask ourselves questions about how deep a challenge this is as I don’t believe we can go on as we are. We can’t continue to have the current model of development as the model we have is flawed.
"Economic models that have championed the unsustainable path on which we have been hurtling are surely inadequate to guide us toward the necessary realignment of economics, ecology and ethics."