I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Food Harvest 2020 report in Dáil Éireann. This is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate Deputy Andrew Doyle on his appointment as Fine Gael spokesperson on agriculture, fisheries and food. I look forward to working with him over the next few years. I also take the opportunity to compliment Deputy Michael Creed on his work as spokesperson for his party over the past number of years.
I do not need to emphasise to the House the important role played by the agri-food, forestry and fisheries sector in the Irish economy and rural society or the contribution it can make to our national economic recovery. If we make the correct decisions now, the harvest will be great. The 2020 report provides a comprehensive and considered roadmap for the development of Ireland's most important indigenous sector.
Over the past decade, the Irish agri-food, forestry and fisheries sector has been competing successfully on the world stage and has demonstrated its capacity to perform as a major player in the global food and drink market. Currently, 85% of our food and fish output is exported to more than 160 countries, which provides a sound and well-established footing for this home-grown industry to be one of the central components of the export-driven recovery. This multi-million euro export industry has undergone continuous development over the past decade and has turned the various challenges encountered into growth opportunities. Such dynamism has enabled the agri-food sector, our largest manufacturing sector, to flourish and to steadily increase the value of exports.
In the last two years the sector has faced new challenges due to the global downturn and unfavourable exchange rates. However, there are significant signs of recovery this year and in the medium to longer term the sector will be presented with tremendous opportunities because of rising food demand in global markets. In this context, it was clear that a new strategic vision was needed to ensure that this valuable sector continued to develop to its full potential and be to the forefront of our economic recovery. Therefore, last February I appointed the 2020 committee to prepare a blueprint for the development of the sector into the next decade. This industry-led committee was a diverse, focused and effective group. Its report, Food Harvest 2020, which was presented to Government in July, reflects the wide-ranging expertise of the committee members. It builds on the comprehensive analytical papers prepared by my Department and relevant State bodies as well as the ideas that emerged from the public consultation process and the input of the Harvard Business School and senior farming and food industry figures at a Bord Bia-sponsored conference at Farmleigh.
As expected, the report is very detailed. It provides more than 200 recommendations and suggestions towards which the Government and private enterprise will work. The key focus of Food Harvest 2020 is to show how the industry can capitalise on the expanding market opportunities. These opportunities arise from the actual and projected increase in food demand due to rising world population and increasing wealth, matched with our ability to produce high-quality products using environmentally sustainable production methods.
A global increase in demand for food will inevitably follow the current surge in world population, which is forecast to reach 8 billion by 2025. Growth in demand for dairy produce is likely to be a particularly strong element due to rising global incomes, which presents an opportunity for our dairy sector. The ending of EU milk quotas in 2015 presents the sector with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to significantly increase our milk output, achieve a change in the scale of our dairy sector and capitalise on the significant cost advantage of our environmentally sustainable grass-based production system.
Besides outlining the opportunities, Food Harvest 2020 sets a number of challenging but achievable growth targets. The principal targets include the following: increasing the value of primary output of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector by €1.5 billion, which is a 33% increase on the 2007-09 average; improving the value added in the sector by €3 billion, a 40% increase compared to 2008; achieving an export target of €12 billion for the sector, a 42% increase compared to the 2007-09 average; increasing milk production by 50%; and adding 20% to the value of the beef sector. In addition, the report points out that we must improve our cost competitiveness by 20% relative to our competitors, and industry spending on research and development must also double.
These are unquestionably ambitious targets, but the sector has real substance: it has the capacity, it has high-quality products, and it has a growing market. I firmly believe we can achieve these targets and I am fully committed to my role in realising this vision. I am aware that it will require a high level of commitment and collaboration from all players in the sector. It is my intention to harness the commitment, ability and positivity that pervades this sector and ensure that we all do what is necessary to achieve these targets.
Food Harvest 2020 gives us a roadmap and a framework for future expansion, which is best expressed as smart green growth. The phrase "green growth" implies the creation of a strong link for consumers between Irish food, high environmental standards and sustainable production.
This link between "green" and Irish should be used as a springboard for growing our industry.
Irish food has always been associated with green, natural and sustainable food production based on our extensive, low input, grass-based production systems. Added to that is our abundant supply of fresh water, which is the envy of producers elsewhere, and the important role that our family farms play in maintaining our rural landscape with its rich biodiversity. All these factors combine in affording real marketing advantage, as they fit well with the growing consumer awareness of the environment, animal welfare and ethical production methods. This constitutes a key competitive advantage for us, provided that we can demonstrate to our international customers that our production methods really are more sustainable than those of our competitors.
I am not referring here to a superficial marketing ploy, nor indeed one which will be achieved overnight. To be successful, we must be able to substantiate fully our green credentials and base our environmental credibility on well founded research. We will have to adopt environmentally sustainable practices at all levels throughout the food chain to meet internationally recognised standards. This will take time and commitment but is necessary to underpin our environmental sustainability and avoid any suggestion of mere, what may be termed, "green-washing".
The good news is that we are not starting from scratch. We already have an established green image and we farm to environmental standards that go beyond the basic requirements of good farming practice. Indeed, Bord Bia already employs the theme "Ireland the Food Island" for its marketing campaigns. There are good grounds for building on this image to differentiate, market and obtain a premium price for our food produce.
Another avenue to be explored is the creation of an umbrella brand for Irish food and drink, based to a large extent on sound environmental credentials. This would have the dual purpose of harnessing Ireland's existing green image and also building a national brand to differentiate Irish products from its competitors. Such a brand image could also be linked to a wider tourism strategy. This idea certainly has potential and it is one which I would most definitely like to see developed further. However, I recognise, as did the Food Harvest 2020 committee, that its realisation will involve detailed consideration and planning as well as considerable realignment of industry, producer and State resources.
Acting smart is also central to the approach recommended in Food Harvest 2020. Acting smart means that our principal focus must be on ensuring competitiveness and sustaining growth. It implies being innovative and at the top of our game in availing of best practice options and lean manufacturing techniques. It involves investing in research and marketing, rethinking business relationships and creating more effective business models.
Smart growth will involve all industry stakeholders in examining and updating their own skills, processes, products, markets and relationships to ensure that they can deliver long-term sustainable growth. The Government has consistently supported the growth and development of the agri-food and fisheries sector and will continue to facilitate business expansion but fundamentally, sustainable growth and job creation will result from the efforts of industry stakeholders themselves.
All parties must act in collaboration and play their part in achieving this growth. Primary producers will need to accelerate their uptake of emerging technology and best practice options in genomics, animal health and husbandry. The industry-led Food Harvest 2020 committee emphasised that consolidation and rationalisation of processing capacity is critical to maintaining competitiveness and future viability.
This is an industry with real strength and real opportunities. The challenge is to build on our existing knowledge and capabilities to ensure that we remain at the forefront of the industry. We are fortunate in that our best farmers are technically advanced and that cutting edge technology is already being used to add value to much of the food that we produce. The significant State investment in food research and centres of excellence over the years has paid dividends and has been a major resource for the Irish food industry. However, active industry collaboration and increased research investment will be critical to the development of innovative food products, such as nutraceuticals and other functional foods.
I have established a high level implementation committee and I chair its meetings to ensure that the implementation process results in a convincing and effective joined-up approach by State agencies. I also want to give a clear message to the participants and to our citizens that this task is a priority, that it is national rather than sectoral, and will involve all stakeholders. At our inaugural meeting of 16 September, I emphasised to the committee that its key function was to direct and take whatever action was necessary to successfully implement 2020 strategy. At that meeting we agreed on the processes which will best realise the sector's full potential advance.
I am very conscious of the critical timeline for the dairy sector and of the importance of ensuring that the current opportunities are fully realised. I have already established the dairy expansion activation group and given it a specific remit and timetable for action. By the end of November, this small group of farmers, processors and Teagasc officials will submit an initial road map to the high level committee highlighting the key milestones from the production and processing perspectives, identifying obstacles to implementation and how these should be overcome. The next meeting of the high level committee is scheduled for 10 November and will deal with the beef sector, brand Ireland and the sustainability agenda, and competitiveness.
I wish to share the remaining ten minutes of my time with the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe.