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Posts Tagged ‘rural development’

 

west cork leader pic5.jpg

This is me with my colleagues Kevin Santry and Ian Dempsey going a bit overboard on the PR shoot.

Below  is my press release on the new Rural Development/LEADER Programme. For anyone interested in food projects there’s great potential under the progamme…

…West Cork’s newly integrated local development company, West Cork Development Partnership launched the much anticipated new LEADER Programme on March 5 in Dunmanway. The launch is great news for community groups and local business, particularly those involved in the food, tourism and craft sectors. A wide range of supports, from direct financial assistance through training and advice, will be targetted at communities and businesses taking positive steps to address their needs in these trying times.

Under the Programme, funding of €14.6 million will be provided, 55% from the European Union and 45% from the National Exchequer.  Nationally, the programme funds total €425m, almost treble the amount available in the last Programme (2000-2006), and the largest ever package for rural development. The rollout of the funding is particularly welcome at a time when public funding elsewhere has been severely cut. Maximum grant levels under the new programme are significantly higher than heretofore (€150,000) and the rate of aid for community projects has been increased to 75% for capital projects. Commenting at the launch of the programme nationally, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív said, “Despite the economic challenges facing the country, I believe that this is a time of great opportunity for rural areas. With the increasing urbanisation of society, there is renewed interest in rural recreation, marine-associated activities and indigenous small food production.  In the last five years, we have seen the numbers of visitors coming to Ireland for rural recreation more than double.  I believe that we can double this again by 2013.  With this new Rural Development Programme, in association with other major programmes run by my Department such as the CLÁR Programme and the Rural Social Scheme, I am confident that we will see significant developments and sustainable job creation in rural Ireland between now and 2013.”

Patrick Murphy, Chairman of West Cork Development Partnership welcomed the launch of the new programme and the new company, which he believes “provides an opportunity to bring life to the entrepreneurial and innovative abilities of people in West Cork. Indigenous industry has always been and will continue to be the basis of economic success in West Cork.

The formation of West Cork Development Partnership brings together community and statutory bodies, providing a single vehicle to achieve a coherent and focused development strategy for West Cork. This will ensure the resources and energies of both West Cork Development Partnership and its partner agencies, will be maximised to achieve a common goal. – Jobs, economic and rural development.

We have, with the launch of this programme, against the backdrop of the current national situation, an opportunity to alter our attitude as to how we – as a community in West Cork, can work together and in doing so, can change lives. Challenges are what make life interesting, overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

West Cork Development Partnership has set out an ambitious plan for the next five years, which Ian Dempsey CEO is confident can help the region address many of the challenges it faces. “The economy has changed rapidly in the 9 months since we submitted this plan, but I believe that it is more relevant than ever. Our strategy is about building on our core strengths in West Cork – our skills, natural resources, environment, community spirit, identity and reputation. At an enterprise level this is encapsulated by the Fuchsia Brand, but we want to go further and develop a cluster effect among and around the Fuchsia enterprises, incorporating suppliers, service providers and others that add value to what the businesses deliver. The cluster approach focuses on interaction, helping each other get better at what we do, learning and innovating. As a means of facilitating greater collaboration and co-operation it will result in businesses retaining greater economic wealth and knowledge within the area. There is a challenge for us in West Cork around how we use knowledge and technology, business models are changing rapidly and this opens up opportunities for new indigenous businesses.”

At a community level, West Cork Development Partnership will drive initiatives and offer supports to improve the balance of development throughout the region, achieve effective community participation and foster responsibility for the local social, natural, built and cultural environment. If you have a development project in mind then you can view the full plan at www.wcdp.ie

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So it’s official, after 2 quarters of negative growth we’re in a recession. A lot of the businesses we are dealing with at West Cork LEADER Co-op are getting very worried. Yet amidst the anxiety there is a noticeable sense of relief too, a sense of getting back to reality and a sense that perhaps we have at last a chance to catch breath, to look at a new direction, a direction that’s about more than the housing market, overseas property shows, releasing equity and tax-lead foreign investment. With the US economy in severe trouble we can expect that the IDA have perhaps run out of road for a while and we’re largely going to have to get out of this one ourselves. So where do we look for new growth in our economy and a sustainable future? I’m convinced that the values we place in food and food production as expressed in our food culture can be strong contributors to that future.

Earlier in September, when the recession was still unofficial but clearly emerging, I had a chance to listen to Prof Kieran Byrne, the director of Waterford IT, address this topic of “Where to now?” He was speaking at the Slowfood Terra Madre conference and delivered a message of his Institute’s firm belief in a positive future for Irish food, food as a product but also food as part of the hospitality sector, and food as part of our culture. He talked about a return to what we are good at, valuing our own culture and from that deriving a wellspring of confidence. He spoke of the role of education in culturing young people, not just teaching them the raw facts or skills but instilling “confidence in our rising generations in our culture, our way of living”. This he argued offers the secure grounding for a new direction. “Perhaps now,” he said, “is the time when we have to transition and it is a challenge to transition. To transition from that era which marked the recent past, that era of the indigent. Perhaps we can turn now from that period in the lifecycle of the country, turn from it to something that is more gradual, more considered, that’s more reflective and surely that’s more healthy.”

Later this month, we will be launching the new LEADER programme for the region, which runs to 2013. In drafting a plan for the next 5 years we’ve had to take a hard look at the region and try to make sense of what works in West Cork and where the region is going. As part of the process we’ve undertaken an extensive review of the Fuchsia Brand, which we’ve published in the form of an e-book called Perspectives on the West Cork Regional Brand (you can have a look by visiting www.fuchsiabrands.com). It is now 10 years since the brand was launched and in that time we’ve learned a lot about branding and communication, but more importantly we’ve come to appreciate the value and input to economic development from West Cork’s society, its communities, culture and environment. We’ve joined the dots in thought and practice between a vibrant enterprise culture and a rich cultural and natural environment ,where there is a strong ethos of working together and a sense of responsibility for the world around us. At the time of writing I am in eastern Poland, preparing to present at a seminar where my main task is to expand on the LEADER approach, which is still fairly new here. I have been invited as an Irish representative, because all around Europe Ireland is held up as a real success story for LEADER. There are serious concerns in Poland about how well the LEADER approach fits with the Polish culture, in particular the notion of social capital, working together for a common purpose, has been seriously damaged here by 50 years of communism. Although there is a whole new generation that has not known communism, the generation that is now in power is very deeply affected by that period. Development workers here tell me that rural Poland really lacks an enterprise culture, a culture of doing and innovating. People here do not start businesses in anything other than retail or trading. There is huge interest in how LEADER groups can encourage the establishment of small rural businesses, particularly in food and tourism, which are so connected to the natural resources of the area, more embedded, more sustainable. My impression is that the biggest challenges are cultural and in particular that aspect of culture which is about values, and valuing what we know and do. As much as anything the successes that we’ve had in West Cork LEADER Co-Op have come from valuing – Fuchsia is all about communicating values – quality, tradition, pride and passion, but equally the projects we support at community level are about valuing – local heritage and the natural environment.

This thread was also picked up on in the Irish Times last week by Finbarr Bradley, a former economics professor at DCU and NUI Maynooth, when he set out an argument that national identity and traditions, and not solely academic research, provide the conditions for a society of innovation and entrepreneurship. He too has launched a book, it’s called Capitalising on Culture, Competing on Difference and has a lot to say about the role of culture in innovation. He argues that knowledge is constructed from experience not received through education or research. We can innovate only when we understand the meaning and value of information through our life experience. He says that “While knowledge is global, innovation is emphatically local. Countries and regions that successfully combine the benefits of global markets with local relationships based on quality and sense of place are likely to prosper.” I think that West Cork is very much a place where people learn by doing, certainly we would not have learned very much about regional branding without having put it into practice. The LEADER programme supports innovation by assisting people to learn by doing. We are taking this to a new level in the next programme by broadening the learning space to learning from doing with others. We are seeking to promote the emergence of a cluster of innovation among our food, tourism and craft enterprises.

The food culture that I have sought to document in this column over the last year is emphatically a culture of learning by doing. If you take a look at Perspectives you will read that the Fuchsia members between them have a combined turnover each year of over €106M, they are providing direct employment for almost 1000 people and are responsible for the creation of another 250 jobs in supporting sectors. Formal education and research play very little part in the success of the producers I have talked to. A major investment in science and advanced research is not I believe the way forward now for Ireland, as Finbarr Bradley and others have pointed out the return in terms of national prosperity is poor. As we look for responses to the recession, let’s look first to ourselves, what we know, value and can put into practice. Let’s look to learn from each other and how we can turn that learning into innovation and may other third level institutions follow WITs lead in culturing and valuing not merely producing recruits for jobs that may not be there or research that never gets off the shelf.

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I got to the Terra Madre conference in Waterford on Friday last to offer my tuppence worth to the debate. Before I get on to talking about our workshop, I must congratulate the organisers, particularly Donal Lehane and Darina Allen, who really stuck their necks out in driving this and who also really pulled it off. Aside from the excellent conference, I have heard that the banquet and farmers market were also superb.

Our workshop was called Food and the Future of Rural Communities and was an amalgam of two that had been proposed on the Ark of Taste and Rural Development. There was a good number at it, some 20 or so, quite healthy considering that there were nearly 40 other workshops running concurrently. Aveen Henry from UCC and the Commissioner of the Ark made a fine job of steering the debate towards a few tightly defined recommendations. I think it was a pity that the Ark itself was sidelined as the discussion threaded its way through bigger picture issues  – particularly difficulties that small artisan food producers face in dealing with regulators and the problems for farmers in getting a decent price for their produce. To my mind we never quite bridged the gap between these two. My own hobby horse of strengthening our food culture, particularly through education and local initiatives, seemed a hard sell to farmers who realistically are getting the same price for milk now as they got 20 years ago and have faced massive cost increases in the meantime and anyway 90% of their produce is exported. Likewise, as one contributor from Midleton pointed out, people don’t just switch over to paying more for quality local produce once they’ve been enlightened on the subject. She pointed out that between the high profile farmers market and the strong profile of the Allens in the area, awareness of quality food is high in Midleton. Yet since the farmers market has opened the town has seen the arrival of a huge 24 hour Tesco, Lidl, McDonalds and Aldi, all of which are flying. We came up with 3 requests – firstly, a national database, secondly, funding for local iniatives, patricularly to build relationships and educate each other and finally, dedicated agency staff trained to deal with and understand the small food sector. I’d like to have seen something about below cost selling and some balance to the power of retailers but couldn’t articulate any solution.

After lunch we all assembled in the large conference hall, which really felt like a piece of the Turin event – huge, colourful, bedecked with nice photos and graphics and full of an amazing array of people from all elements of food and agriculture. It was only when I got into the hall that I realised the scale of the event – there were close to 1000 people assembled. Prof Kieran Byrne, director of Waterford Institute gave an inspiring speech about getting back to what we do well in the years ahead. Then each workshop got to present their conclusions to the two ministers – Trevor Sargent and Michelle Gildernew, from the North. These 2 in turn then responded – both speaking very positively and indeed reassuringly – Min Sargent gave a firm guarantee that Ireland will be safeguarded from GM crops and animals. Then President McAleese arrived and then warmth of her relationship with Darina Allen was very evident – she actually has her own vegetable garden and hens at the Aras – excellent! Unfortuately, we didn’t get to hear from Carlo Petrini, he was clearly not feeling the best.

Then it was over and we dispersed and if I’m honest I feel a little dissatisfied. Yes, it was a superb event and yes, we all got listened to. But I’m not convinced that talking to the Green Party Minister for Food about the problems in food and agriculture is going to fix it. So many of the problems we discussed about food and rural development are enmeshed in other issues and the solutions are incredibly complex. Most of all they are hard to articulate and require the co-operation of many different parties – it’s not all about food culture.

If you’d looking for a  fuller picture Caroline Hennessy at bibliocook has compiled all of the recent posts about Terra Madre Ireland here.

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