There is little doubt but that rain-fed, grass based agriculture is the most sustainable form of food production. There is also little doubt but that Irish agriculture has a considerably lower carbon footprint than most other parts of the world. It is to be treasured therefore as a model for other countries to emulate as concerns about climate change and food security escalate.
However the blurring of these two concepts is not helpful. It is primarily climate change which is currently causing, and will cause, increase food insecurity in the developing world. Packaging a proposal to greatly intensify Irish agricultural production as the nation’s gift to alleviating food insecurity thus ignores the environmental costs involved. Harvest 2020 has been inserted into influential decision making circles without a sound Strategic Environmental Assessment being undertaken. As such, the positive spin associated with this has relegated a number of key issues which need a public debate on:
1. How is a 50% increase in the dairy herd compatible with Ireland’s international commitments to reduce ghg emissions in the non-traded sector? In particular is it the case that transport will have to be totally decarbonised by 2020 and the rest of the Irish economy decarbonised by 2050?
2. Is monoculture of Friesian cows an acceptable form of agriculture for the 21st century? What risks are there at a national scale viz. the potato!?
3. Is agricultural intensification predicated on Ireland derogating from the EU Nitrates Directive? If so what are the arguments being advanced to Europe for this second derogation?
These are valid questions which a full and transparent SEA should address. But will they?