Tuesday 31 July 2007

Ireland - Rural Development Plan

The EU's Rural Development Committee has approved Ireland's Rural Development Programme 2007-2013.

Country profile

* Agriculture - 62% of Ireland is agricultural land, less favoured areas constitute three quarters of it.
* Agricultural employment - 3.3%
* The agri-food sector accounts for 8% of GDP & 10% of exports (mostly beef & dairy).
* Competitiveness - High level of farm fragmentation, need to facilitate structural change, high agricultural land prices, need to support a vibrant & consumer oriented agricultural sector.
* Environment - considerable natural resources & biodiversity, disease free status, high level of success & participation in previous agri-environment schemes, public support for the multifunctional role of agriculture, risk of land abandonment.
* Rural Areas - declining importance of agriculture, pressure from urbanisation, outmigration, strong tourism & cultural identity, experienced in the Leader approach, dynamic population, low ICT uptake, need to create alternative employment sources.

Chosen strategy corresponding to the profile
Primary emphasis on the environment and land management (notably the continuation of the existing agri-environment scheme) and a secondary emphasis on the competitiveness of the agri-food sector and the quality of life/diversification in rural areas.

Of the total financial allocation for the Irish Rural Development Programme for 2007-2013, €2.33 will be financed by the EAFRD (European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development).

The Irish Rural development Programme aims -

* To support the development of the Ireland's rural areas, whilst upholding the principles of sustainable development and to support agriculture in its provision of public goods;
* To enhance the environment & biodiversity - in particular, building on the success of current environmental measures;
* To mitigate the effects of climate change and protect Ireland's natural resources;
* To ensure a competitive agri-food sector by boosting innovation, added value and consumer focus;
* To address structural problems in the agricultural industry and the need for on-farm capital investment;
* To address local needs and boost the quality of life in rural areas and promote the creation of micro-enterprises.

To meet these aims
The main priorities for 'Axis 1' are to create a strong and dynamic agri-food industry, to modernise agricultural holdings and to facilitate structural change through support for young farmers and early retirement. Furthermore, the funds under this area should be used to support training related to agri-environment schemes.

The main focus of 'Axis 2' is the protection of the environment and environmentally-friendly farming techniques, support to prevent land abandonment and the protection of landscape features. These include:

* environmentally friendly farming methods to enhance biodiversity
* suitable farming systems to preserve the rural landscape
* the protection of the environment on agricultural land and in areas of high nature value/Natura 2000 - and
* support for the maintenance of traditional landscape features such as stone walls and farm buildings, as well as archaeological sites on farmland.

Axis 3 & 4 will focus on the creation of employment opportunities and diversification of rural areas using the Leader method. Initiatives under these areas will support diversification into non-agricultural activities, micro-business creation and development, tourism activities, basic services for the economy and rural population, village renewal and development, conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage, skills acquisition and training.

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