Seanad debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

National Climate and Air Roadmap for the Agriculture Sector: Statements

 

10:30 am

Eileen Flynn (Independent)

I welcome the Minister to the House to address this important issue. We all know the critical and global importance of addressing climate change. Like the current pandemic, climate change is something all countries must tackle together. If we did not know it already, this past year has taught us how interconnected we are on Earth. Today, we are discussing the national climate and air roadmap for the agriculture sector. This roadmap sets out the challenging vision, actions and targets to reach a climate-neutral agricultural sector by 2050.

We have to balance the need to increase food production with helping farmers and all of society to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As we address these important issues, we must also remember that small farmers are the backbone of agriculture - not just in Donegal where the Minister and I both live, but across the country. As we call on farmers to do their part to help fight climate change, we must also do what we can to protect and improve their livelihoods. The IFA president has said that farmers are committed to reducing emissions. At the same time, some small farmers are concerned that measures to reduce their carbon footprint may punish them for using cost-effective traditional measures.

At the annual general meeting of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association in November, its president, Colm O'Donnell, was rightly concerned about how EU land designation might unfairly impact on hill farming, including in Donegal. Mr. O'Donnell made it clear that for any environmental scheme related to farming to be successful, the new Common Agricultural Policy must not discriminate against those who farm sensitive environmental lands. We must ensure supports are available for farmers, especially for small farmers, to meet these challenging targets. Farmers, like us all, want a clean healthy environment to pass on to the next generation. They have families and mortgages. They are ordinary citizens who also need money. Let us not forget that. We cannot punish small farmers for practices that were encouraged to adopt in the past.Many of our small farmers are farming in a more natural and environmentally friendly way than bigger operations.

The next Common Agricultural Policy will have an extra focus on climate action but it is not expected to start until 2023. Payments under CAP have long been allocated unfairly and in a way that discriminates against small farmers in Ireland. A flattening of CAP payments is long overdue. Any measure put in place that will affect small farmers' incomes must be adjusted by stronger supports. I understand that this roadmap was developed after engagement with stakeholders, and I welcome that. We must bring all parties together. I also understand that this roadmap is a living document that includes a commitment to engage with stakeholders. I welcome that too. To make this work we must make sure that our farmers, especially our small farmers, are given the resources they need to work. They put food on their tables by making sure we are able to put food on ours.

As a Dublin woman, I never knew the value of farming. I know that may sound a bit silly coming from a 31-year-old. When I moved to Donegal, however, living with small farmers, I came to know that for many young men in rural Ireland, especially in Ardara, it is their way of life and their livelihood. As a vegetarian, I am not against farming. I do not think any vegans or vegetarians are against farming. I just wanted to put that on the record. Again, I thank the Minister for coming before the House. While we do not always consider it, we must remember that farming is vitally important to young men, whether in city life or in other parts of Ireland but especially in rural Ireland.

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