National Farmer Health Alliance online showcase

An online showcase aimed at creating a new National Farmer Health Alliance was held on Thursday, 16th September 2021.

A range of almost 100 relevant stakeholders took part in what could prove to be a groundbreaking consensus-building exercise.

The half-day event was opened by Martin Heydon TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and featured international speakers specialising in supporting farmer wellbeing. 

These notable academics were Dr Alison Kennedy, Senior Research Fellow with the National Centre for Farmer Health at Deakin University, Australia; and Prof Philippe Roy, adjunct professor at the University of Sherbrooke’s School of Social Work in Québec, Canada, whose particular area of research interest is rurality, farmers’ mental health and indigenous wellbeing.

The objective behind the proposed Alliance is to help establish a cohesive, centralised body to support the health and wellbeing of those working in the Irish Agri sector, and their families.

The initiative took root during discussions involving the Men’s Development Network and a range of stakeholders in the new farm advisor health training programme ‘On Feírm Ground’ (part of Engage Training Programme). This also led to the European Innovation Project ‘FarmConnect’, which will be piloted in Waterford and Roscommon in 2022.

“It was a natural extension of the work we were doing across these projects around key themes affecting farmers’ health and wellbeing,” explains Men’s Development Network CEO Seán Cooke.

“Research shows agriculture is disproportionately impacted by health issues, both physical and mental, compared to other sectors. Farming also has the highest rate of fatalities of any sector nationally.

“However, local and national efforts to encourage farmers to mind their health have suffered from the lack of a centralised, joined-up approach. This is an opportunity to finally provide that coherence and bring about big changes for the better for farmers, their families, and rural communities.”

The showcase featured participative workshops during the morning and afternoon sessions. These were designed to shape the Alliance’s structure, agenda, and values.

Attendees were able to visit a range of exhibition “booths” hosted by pioneering projects focused on improving health, safety and wellbeing in the agricultural sector and rural communities generally.

Seán Cooke added: “We wanted to foster a meeting of minds and real engagement among the plethora of bodies and organisations who, through various programmes and initiatives, are encouraging farmers to think and act in a more holistic, health-conscious way.”

Prospective Alliance members – drawn from across health bodies, community organisations, training and support agencies, educational institutions and business, farming groups, Government departments and NGOs – were invited to register an interest in participating in further discussions.

On being established, it’s envisaged the prospective Alliance would serve as a central information hub and fulcrum for farmer-specific health and wellbeing awareness campaigns, research, and policy advocacy.

Alison Holmes, a Clinical Tutor at the University of Limerick as well as a farmer, is a member of the NFHA steering committee. Having received active support from the Departments of Agriculture, Health and the HSE, the proposed coalition could become a very effective collective, she feels.

“We hear much of the term sustainability in relation to Irish farming practices, yet it is rarely a term used regarding the Irish farmer and farm family,” the 2019 Nuffield Scholar says.

On behalf of the steering committee, Alison presented an overview of the blueprint’s rationale, saying “Collaborative efforts such as this allow for the topic of farmer health and wellbeing to be highlighted and addressed on a national scale and to positively impact on individuals and the Agri industry as a whole.”

Dr Alison Kennedy and Alison Holmes of the steering committee in conversation at the online showcase

Keynote Speakers from Australia and Canada

Dr Alison Kennedy
Prof Philippe Roy
Opening: Minister Martin Heydon

“Our objective is to create a meeting of minds and real engagement among the plethora of bodies and organisations who, through various programmes and initiatives, are encouraging farmers to think and act in a more holistic, health-conscious way.”

Men's Development Network CEO Seán Cooke (above)
Prof Philippe Roy gave a fascinating presentation on his work in Quebec, Canada

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