I thank Senators for the opportunity to appear before the House. I will present a joint perspective on behalf of myself and my colleague from Ulster University business school, Dr. Lynsey Hollywood. We very much welcome the opportunity to discuss our perspective on the future and ongoing reform of the CAP. It is entirely appropriate that such a collaborative and open approach is used because it is in this capacity as stakeholders that farmers and wider stakeholders have an important opinion in this area.
Our presentation will focus on four main priorities we believe that any ongoing CAP reform should include. The first is to address the volatility or instability of our agricultural markets because we consider primary food production a special case. The exceptionalism of food means that a political and social importance is attached to it, and it is entirely appropriate to give meaningful support to farmers in recognition of their contribution to this important primary production. It is also important to consider the issue of cross-compliance, but without subsidising or supporting any lack of competitiveness or inefficiencies within agriculture. It is also entirely appropriate that the support is directed towards farmers in less favourable farming areas. Any income support or resilience payment should not be allowed to become a surrogate for income support, nor a means of indefinitely maintaining uneconomical farming units. There should continue to be a focus on the full decoupling of primary production from income support, without any regression to coupling food production with any kind of payment. This will allow any agrifood industry ultimately to become more responsive, which is an important future direction to be consumer orientated and market led.
The lack of collaboration in the farming community and, more widely, agrifood is an issue. Government intervention could usefully foster greater collaboration, although that will need careful consideration through, for example, appropriate incentivisation. A better understanding of market requirements would enable farmers to move from a production mentality to a more marketing mindset. Any support could usefully be focused on support for know-how of marketing aspects. Identifying that market need or niche in the market and how to differentiate one's product offering would help create diversification, support farmers in that mentality and allow us to look towards a strong, value-added market with strong export potential. In the light of agricultural exceptionalism, some mechanism needs to be in place to ensure a secure, sustainable, healthy environment, and to prevent instability of the agricultural market, erratic food prices and market distortion. It is important that any solution does not serve to increase food prices for the end consumer.
That brings me to the second priority, namely, food security, which covers the continuity of supply, health and food poverty. The security of supply is especially important in the context of Europe and globally, given the increasing population and the need to feed more people and produce more food for more people. The world's population is predicted to be 9 billion by 2050. It would be appropriate for any ongoing and future reform of the CAP or agricultural framework to consider health, simply because of the relationship between food choice, nutrition and health. These policies should usefully complement one another. We need our industry to encourage production of food consistent with guidelines for healthy eating and for population nutrition. That leaves us a space in food innovation to ensure we meet that market nee, although it cannot be at the expense of the twin objectives of productivity alongside environmental sustainability. As for unnecessary costs being accrued to the consumer, paradoxically, those consumers who stand to benefit most from a healthy diet are those who can least afford it. Consumers, therefore, must not be disadvantaged by a two-tier pricing policy or as a consequence of their reality. They must be able to access, afford and avail of healthy food.
Our third priority is ensuring that food and farming are public goods, which we hinted at earlier in the context of environmental production. We need to consider and continue the emphasis on the active management of land, which should be rewarded in a way that respects cross-compliance. Farming is more than its principal purpose of primary production and, therefore, any payment schedule made to farmers must be conditional upon food safety, food quality, environmental and animal welfare, and occupational health and safety standards. We need to consider the pivotal role that farming can play in preserving and enhancing the rural and natural environments, the importance of which we should not diminish. Our farming counterparts are the custodians of our natural environment and it is important to respect the amenity value of the countryside. Any future agricultural framework and policy should aim to preserve and enhance the amenity and recreational value of our land, and to reward landowners for conducting that public good on society's behalf.
Our final priority is the maintenance of the rural population and rural development. Agriculture requires generational renewal of active farmers. As we hinted at in the context of incentivisation, one might expect us, from a university perspective, to suggest that continuing professional development, short courses and educational attainment in this regard are also important. Universities and the higher education sector have a role to play in providing access to increasing professional educational attainment in this area, and in allowing farmers to have that marketing mindset and the export potential to be exploited. We welcome a multi-actor approach to science and innovation, involving support agencies and research institutions.
In conclusions, further reform of the CAP is to be welcomed. We recommend that policy makers continue to pursue aggressively the decoupling of food production from payments to exploit that truly market-orientated, consumer-led approach and to allow for complementary agrifood and health policies in a way that is mutually supportive of people, the planet and profit.