I congratulate Colin Keir on bringing the issue, which is particularly relevant and important, forward for debate, and welcome the chance to comment on the educational work that the Royal Highland Education Trust is undertaking to promote the countryside, which is an essential component of Scotland‟s cultural and economic fabric.
As we have heard, the trust provides opportunities for schoolchildren across Scotland to investigate various aspects of countryside life through activities such as farm visits, school competitions and classroom talks by farmers.
It has been stated that more than 15,000 children have been able to experience working farms and estates first-hand. That is a 20 per cent rise on the previous year. I think that we would all not only support the trust‟s aim of sustaining that level of interaction annually by 2015 but urge it to increase that level.
As always, there are lessons to be learned from the work of our neighbours. My mind is drawn to innovative efforts that are being made in Iceland, where the Alcoa Foundation has funded outdoor schoolrooms in order to make the environment in general a natural part of the curriculum.
Such events and experiences have intrinsic value. They give children in urban settings the opportunity to experience rural life, albeit briefly sometimes. As part of the curriculum for excellence, they give children the opportunity to understand better where the food in their fridges and pantries originates.
As a councillor, I visited Shetland during the Highlands and Islands convention, where I was privileged to hear from schoolchildren who had been introduced to crofting. It was inspirational to hear how enthusiastic they were about a sector that is often viewed as unattractive, largely because people have not experienced the satisfaction and contentment of seeing the benefits of their own work in an area as important as growing one‟s own food or animal husbandry.
However, the Royal Highland Education Trust does so much more than that. The food and drink sector in Scotland is truly one of our success stories: it had an £11.9 billion annual turnover in 2009, which indicates that we are well on our way to meeting our £12.5 billion target for 2017. My region, which is synonymous with world-class food and drink exports, employs some 25,900 people in that sector. That demonstrates the importance of a thriving agricultural sector to underpin the rural economy of Scotland.
Many more people take part in related activities on a part-time or self-employed basis, and crofting is a popular and long-standing part of Highland life. The inclusion of crofting in any educational materials would be welcome, and would open up even more future business opportunities for our young people. I therefore encourage the trust to work in conjunction with the Crofting Commission to integrate such material into its future programmes.
By showcasing to our young people the opportunities and careers that are afforded by our burgeoning food and drink industry, we not only instil a pride in Scotland’s produce but cultivate future generations of farmers, distillers and brewers to further support us in growing that sector.
The Royal Highland Education Trust’s work in this field is to be encouraged. I support Colin Keir‟s motion.
That the Parliament welcomes the Royal Highland Education Trust’s work to promote Scotland’s rural and agricultural environment, farming and countryside activities and food education to Scotlan’‟s young people; considers that Scotland’s urbanisation over recent decades has meant that many children have no direct link with the countryside or experience of environmental issues and that this is a gap in young people’s education; notes that the Edinburgh-based charity has received funding from the Scottish Government to educate children about the role that food plays in their lives through farm visits, working with local companies and introducing food topics in the school curriculum; considers that food education has an important role to play in improving Scotland‟s health, helping people to make healthier choices and making them aware of the importance of eating sustainably; further notes that the programme will highlight the career opportunities available to young people in Scotland’s food and drink sector, which provides an increasing boost to the Scottish economy, and welcomes the trust’s aim to deliver its programme of farm and estate visits for 15,000 young people per year by 2015.