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AN INNOVATIVE scheme from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for a new National Qualification in local food production has been approved by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The new course will cover practical and sustainable local food production and consumption, food metres (rather than food miles), food preservation, packaging, carbon footprint and food security.

There will be optional units in animal husbandry, horticulture and aquaculture combined with business and marketing.

It will provide young people in schools and colleges with the skills and knowledge to produce food in their community – ‘Local Growing, Grazing and Packaging to Plate’.

Leader of the Comhairle Angus Campbell said: “The Western Isles offers a wide range of high quality food products and this new school course will provide young people with relevant skills and a Progression Pathway into the growing local food production industry.”

The new qualification will be a National Progression Award – at ‘Higher’ level and in schools will provide progression for pupils on existing courses such as: Crofting, Hospitality and Catering, Harris Tweed and others.

The increase in courses providing young people with skills needed in the local economy are proving popular with pupils, and increasingly relevant with more than 60% of school leavers now choosing to stay and work/train on the islands.

Local Food Production has been identified as a small business opportunity by final-year pupils on Enterprising Young People workshops and as a small business opportunity.

School leavers interested in setting up a small business locally can secure support from the ‘Include Us’ project.

The qualification development team, led by the Comhairle, has partnership support from the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, Crofting Connections and the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Pam Rodway MBE, Crofting Connections project manager said: “I am delighted that the SQA has approved the National Progression Award in Local Food Production, following on from the Rural Skills Crofting courses now offered in schools throughout the crofting counties.

“Many iconic Scottish foods have roots in crofting, including those based on traditional crops and breeds of livestock. Some of these foods have almost been lost with the introduction of global food systems.”

She continued: “The Local Food Production course will help young people to understand the issues that need to be addressed to respond to the demand from local people and visitors alike for quality local food, which relates to crofting culture.

“With the current concern around long and complicated supply chains, it is increasingly important to look at re-localising the food chain, including setting up local markets and food co-ops, as well as meeting the demand for local distinctive products from chefs and retailers.”

For more information on Include Us – support for young people in the Outer Hebrides wishing to set up a local business – please contact Fiona Macinness-Begg on 01851 822742 or email fionamacinnes-beag@cne-siar.gov.uk