Guest blog by Phil Carson, Policy Officer RSPB NI

Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food Sector can play a pivotal role in addressing the nature and climate nature and climate emergency, at the same time as providing economic opportunities for rural communities and supporting healthier, sustainable diets. However, our current food and farming system is failing to meet these aims. Nature is vanishing before our eyes, whilst agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions are the highest of any sector in Northern Ireland and rising. There is a clear need for urgent change to create a new system that is not only good for farmers, but also for nature and climate.

Challenges and opportunities

Recently, the Minister for Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs and Minister for Economy announced the commencement of an Independent Strategic Review of the NI Agri-Food Sector (ISRAF). This work, led by Sir Peter Kendall, former president of the National Farmers Union, will consider the challenges and opportunities facing the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland and will play a significant role in setting the future direction of travel for food and farming in Northern Ireland.

Sheep at Slemish. Image (c) Neal Warnock, RSPB

We believe the review must be framed around the fact we are facing a nature and climate emergency and urgent action and investment is required to create a truly sustainable food and farming system. This is vital if the agri-food sector is to help us overcome the significant challenges we currently face. Supporting a transition towards nature friendly farming practises is not only good for nature and climate but can also provide significant benefits to farm businesses too.

Nature positive system

Securing a transition towards a nature positive food and farming system can also provide opportunities to showcase Northern Ireland as a leader in sustainable farming and land management. To harness these opportunities, the review process must ensure that the challenges that nature, climate and the environment are currently facing are fully recognised, with clear actions being put forward to ensure that the agri-food sector plays its part in solving them.