Ireland has been a long-standing champion of global efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition, so it was a privilege to speak at the Global Food Security Summit in London this week. Thanks to Minister Andrew Mitchell for convening this important and timely event.
The Irish Government works with a range of development and humanitarian partners.
This is a priority firmly rooted in our own history and one we are strongly committed to in the face of the current crises. Our official development assistance will continue to target those most vulnerable, and will continue to focus on preventing hunger and developing sustainable food systems. In 2023 Ireland will spend a total of €284 million on food, agriculture and nutrition.
We believe that interventions for the prevention of wasting must be delivered in a multi-sectoral approach, with renewed efforts to link all relevant sectors such as health, Water-Sanitation-And-Hygiene, agriculture, environment and social protection through a systems approach.
We welcome the updated guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the prevention and treatment of wasting, and the emphasis on the importance of access to diverse, locally available and nutrient-dense foods that constitute a healthy diet as integral to the prevention of wasting.
Last September in New York the Irish Government pledged €50 million over three years for the fight to end child wasting, in cooperation with USAID and UNICEF.
COP28 in Dubai in a few weeks will have a strong focus on food systems and their interconnections with climate. This will be an opportunity that the world must grasp to further advance sustainable food systems towards zero hunger and ending malnutrition.
Improving local food security and supporting engagement in profitable, climate resilient livelihood strategies will be central.
And it is those local food systems which are often more resilient to climate change impact, and can help mitigate the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss, while ensuring a stable supply of nutritious foods for children.
So it’s critical that in supporting populations vulnerable to malnutrition and wasting, our efforts are targeted at enabling and sustaining the capacity of communities to produce nutritious food locally.
It is heartening to see the UK, given its place on the global stage, its network, its influence and its long history of development work, leading out on this important issue.
Observations on the Irish Government and the role it can play
Ireland is a net exporter of beef and dairy - in fact we produce enough to feed 10 times our population. While this is an impressive achievement for a small country, it has had a negative impact on natural environment - water, biodiversity and air quality - as well as driving GHG emissions.
Ireland is part of the EU single market and participates in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), which is the key mechanism for ensuring food security throughout Europe. The CAP also influences how food is produced, and the CAP has certain environmental requirements for primary producers, something EU taxpayers have demanded delivers more favourable environmental outcomes. But it’s vital to ensure that we are targeting more than just primary producers in seeking to bring about a climate-resilient food system, all elements of the supply chain have a responsibility here, including consumers.
Domestically, Ireland’s agri-food strategy, Food Vision 2030, was developed to adopt a food systems approach. It sets out, for the entire sector, a strongly practical approach to what needs to be achieved for future environmental, economic and social sustainability.
Sound science does not need to be new science
As I see it, Ireland’s work on innovation for sustainable agriculture has two main strands. We use a combination of financial incentives, regulation and advisory services to improve the environmental sustainability of our primary producers, and this is to implement what we already know we need our farmers to be doing differently. I think a key point is that sound science does not need to be new science: it’s critical to work now to implement what we know is best practice, because we already know so much.
Separately, we are funding a lot of innovation, and to my mind both in Ireland and globally, if technological innovation is to be part of the solution to climate-resilient food systems, the innovations need to be accessible to farmers of all sizes in all locations - we simply can’t afford the best innovation to be the preserve of a select few, who are already powerful.
International co-operation is obviously absolutely critical: we will get nowhere without it. That’s why events like the Global Food Security Summit are key, and why Ireland is an active participant with the work of UN Agencies, such as FAO, WPF & IFAD, in the challenge to achieve global food security.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to witness some of the work our Irish embassies do to support sustainable food systems when I visited Tanzania and Kenya. They are working with primary producers, processors, and agricultural advisory services. Whether it is planting different crops or using a more appropriate breed of animal, it can be done. But we need to continue to work collaboratively towards increasing the scale, scope and impact of this important work.