Agri-food is a sector most likely to be adversely impacted by Brexit and so the sector is being encouraged to build trading relationships elsewhere - namely Africa.

Ibec held an event called Winning Business in Africa, for food and drinks companies seeking to export to the continent. Africa is seen as an attractive market for agri-food companies, particularly as a way to insulate themselves from the uncertainties presented by Brexit.

"Africa is an enormous market, and a market that is not as well tapped by Irish companies as it should be," said Mark McAuley, who is director of a number of trade associations with ibec.

Ireland exports around €1.3 billion a year to Africa as a whole, which is comparable with what the country exports to Poland or Mexico individually. 

Mr McAuley said around a third of Irish exports to Africa comes from the agri-food sector. "Dairy is particularly successful with over €200 million going to Africa."

The business group is looking to engage companies in the European Development Fund, a resource that is largely untapped by Irish companies.

Ibec started working a number of years ago with the Department of Foreign Affairs who are funding the Winning Business in Africa project which enables companies to get involved in the European Development Fund. Those projects are funded centrally through a €30 billion fund over a five year period.

About €8.5 billion of projects are represented in ibec portals. "We have a website, a portal and a data base which companies can go into, and they can search for opportunities that will suit them. Ibec can help companies to tender on the projects. We can help them to access the opportunity, and we can help them to build partnerships."

'Winning Business in Africa' stems from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade wanting to build on the development assistance that they give to Africa by growing the private sector involvement there, and helping Irish companies to build trade in Africa, to invest in Africa and to create jobs in Africa.

One such company who successfully exports to Africa is dairy group, LacPatrick.

Gabriel D'Arcy, Chief Executive of LacPatrick, said their brand is a brand leader in 15 to 20 African countries stretching from Mauritania to Angola in West Africa. Africa has 54 countries with a population of 1.5 billion.

"When you are looking for growth opportunities in, if I may use the term, a fairly obese and fairly well fed western world, clearly for nutritious dairly ingredients, the sort that Ireland has an outstanding reputation for, the target markets are the markets with large populations and large population growth prospects, and Africa of course is the nearest and most approximate of those growth opportunites."

Mr D'Arcy said Africa is not just a market for big business. "I would say no you don't have to be big but you certainly have to understand the markets, and to consider Africa as one generic homogenous market would be very wrong. There are 54 countries, they have 54 political regimes, economic cycles and various other challenges like languages and currencies, that one would need to understand.

"I would say to smaller companies to do some analysis, and maybe target one or two of the countries that offer the best opportunity, rather than saying, 'Yes, we're going to Africa because Africa is very big place'," he said.