Agri Aware is the organisation driving the current educational initiative to communicate the benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to the public at large across the island of Ireland, writes Richard Halleron.
“And the campaign is starting to build real momentum,” said Dr. Vanessa Woods, CEO of the Dublin-based independent agri-food educational body.
“We have secured a bid worth almost €500,000 from the European Commission to engage the public in CAP, being the European policy that delivers a secure supply of quality, safe and traceable food at an affordable price for the consumer.
“Consumers need to understand what CAP delivers for them because everybody eats food, and as such, CAP benefits everybody. The year-long educational campaign is also a good news story for farmers, as the public are finding out about the crucially important role that farmers and our industry continue to play in delivering this high quality food.”
Agri Aware was awarded the contract to deliver the educational CAP initiative following a competitive bidding process.
The overarching theme of the campaign is ‘Be Agri Aware – Put your thinking CAP on!’.
It aims to communicate the many benefits of the CAP after 2013 to the general public and farmers across Ireland-North and South.
A key element of the campaign is Agri Aware’s ‘Meet the Farmer in the City’ at Family Farm, developed jointly by Agri Aware and Dublin Zoo. This unique resource is already attracting over one million annual visitors. As part of this initiative, Agri Aware is working with a number of producers who have been resident farmers in Family Farm, during weekends over the summer months of 2015, being the peak period in Dublin Zoo.
These farmers represent a number of different sectors within the agri community. Their job is to engage visitors, to Family Farm in the role of the farmer, the importance of the agri-food industry and CAP during tours, of Family Farm and via interactive educational initiatives. Two resident ‘Young farmers’ are also engaging visitors in the key messages.
Agri Aware’s CAP communication programme has a number of other novel elements. These include an advertisement in cinemas and on national television stations across the island of Ireland.
“We will also be exhibiting at the upcoming National Ploughing Championships in Co. Laois,” said Dr Woods.
“This follows-on from a very successful exhibit at the recent Tullamore Show. Billboards, featuring eye-catching and clear CAP-related messages have been placed in Belfast, Londonderry, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway. Newspaper and radio advertisements will also feature strongly.”
Dr Woods makes it clear that the ongoing campaign will educate people of all ages about the new CAP.
“In simple terms, we are explaining what the term CAP actually means and why it is important to everyone and why it benefits everyone,” she said.
“Our core messages reflect the fact that the CAP is a common EU policy that helps to support European farmers in providing guaranteed access to safe, quality, traceable and sustainably produced food for 500 million EU consumers.
“In addition, we are communicating to the public at large, how CAP helps to keep Ireland’s countryside beautiful, green and clean, while giving farming and family farms a secure future.”
Dr Woods is quick to confirm that the Agri Aware campaign is creating high levels of awareness in rural and urban areas across the length and breadth of the island.
“The feedback that we are already getting from the public in Northern Ireland is extremely positive and, obviously, we will create further momentum over the coming months.”
She also indicated that the EU sees Agri Aware as a “best practice communication model in Europe.”
In many ways, Agri Aware has an immensely suitable pedigree when it comes to driving CAP-related communication strategies. The organisation was established as a charitable trust almost 20 years ago, with the specific remit of delivering high impact educational and public awareness initiatives and projects for students and the general public.
Its ‘founding fathers’ included Bord Bia, FBD Insurance, Ornua, the Irish Farmers Journal and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA). The organisation’s mission statement is to: ‘improve the image and understanding of agriculture, farming and the food industry among the general public’.
“We are funded by 70 of the leading Irish agri-food businesses,” explained Dr Woods.
“And these include many organisations with a major presence in Northern Ireland, such as Lakeland Dairies, Town of Monaghan Co-op, Devenish Nutrition, Alltech, Dunbia, Crumb Rubber, Donegal Creameries, Slaney Foods, Irish Country Meats, Glanbia, the Irish Farmers Journal and ABP.
“Developing and delivering relevant projects and initiatives with a strong interactive educational theme has been a core driver for Agri Aware since our inception. At one level, we have worked very hard to get agreement to update the Agricultural Science specification for Leaving Certificate students as it was outdated by 40 years. We are well through this process at present, working with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).”
As a former scientist who worked with AFBI in Hillsborough, Woods sees the need to communicate science to the consumer, but she stresses that it must be done in a simple yet engaging way. With a recent article entitled ‘Amazing grazing-Why is grass-fed Irish food so unique?’ for example, Woods has always felt that the important role of grazed grass in our industry is not communicated to the consumer. She felt that many consumers were unaware of the benefits of grass-fed food and she addressed this by delivering an education piece through the media with Professor Paddy Wall, one of the sixteen strong members of the Board of Directors of Agri Aware.
“We also provide third level agricultural science students with an opportunity to work with us on projects that fully complement their own studies.
Woods believes that the work undertaken by Agri Aware is making a real difference in terms of creating a positive image for agriculture with members of the general public, from urban and rural areas, but stresses that: “We must keep working at it. The four year olds that we educated in 1996 are making purchasing decisions today, so the true impact of our work begins now.”
Back in 1997, shortly after Agri Aware was established, an independent consumer survey confirmed that 64% of the general public in Ireland thought that agriculture was extremely or very important to the Irish economy,” she said.
“Ten years later, that figure had risen to 72% and in Agri Aware’s most recent consumer survey in 2014, 92% of the public surveyed regarded farming as a fundamental driver of the economy and our way of life.
This is an extremely encouraging trend. From the very outset, the Agri Aware team took a very strategic approach to the way they went about their business, where numerous relevant and interactive educational programmes and initiatives have been delivered to engage the consumer.
“Agri Aware has a more than successful track record in terms of delivering on its mission statement and we will continue to build on all of this for the future.”
For more information on Agri Aware, you can visit www.agriaware.ie or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.