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Now is the time to shape the future - Agriculture Minister

1 September, 2009 - by Westminster

There is now a unique opportunity to shape the agriculture industry and the rural community here for generations to come.

That was the message today from the Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA. She said that at a time when there are enormous crises in world economies, this part of Ireland has many of the elements to ensure a bright future for its rural communities.

“I have the privilege of being Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development at a time when there is an opportunity to influence the shape and direction of the rural community which is a vital part of the life, character and economy of our entire region.

“I have been given a major task in shaping the rural community’s future prosperity and quality of life through my role as Rural Champion, my input to the Rural White Paper and delivering projects including the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2007-2013. The RDP in itself is injecting some £500 million into our community and that is making a great difference.

“Over the coming weeks I will be undertaking a number of initiatives to underline what each of these components are doing and how I see the rural economy develop. Working together the various strands can weave a bright and sustainable future for farmers, rural dwellers and those who work and have their recreation away from urban areas.

“The role of Rural Champion has been developed to highlight the functions and responsibilities of everyone involved in the countryside. For my part I intend to work for the good of the rural community and to represent the views and interests of that community not only within DARD but across government. I will seek to support rural communities, agencies and organisations which contribute to the rural way of life and its long term development.

“In addition the Rural White Paper proposals provide for the establishment of five stakeholder sub-groups each of which will look at the issues and challenges facing rural communities within the five themes: Rural Governance, Rural Vision, Rural People, Rural Places and Rural Services.

“The sub-groups have met several times and hope to report back to the Department on the outcome of their work in the autumn. Their reports will then be considered formally by DARD and other Departments with a view to commencing formal public consultation on a draft document during 2010.

“The Rural Champion and Rural White Paper are works in progress but currently great work is being done on the ground through the RDP. I firmly believe that it is making a real difference for farmers and everyone else living and working in the countryside.

“It is a remarkable fact that the RDP is investing over £500 million in rural communities across the north – the largest ever investment here. It is a real winner for farmers, rural businesses, landowners and rural communities generally. Through programmes such as this and by working in partnership with local communities, we can make a difference in rural areas and to the lives of people living, working and visiting them.

“The RDP has been specifically designed to help strengthen the local economy and make agriculture, horticulture and rural businesses more competitive. It also seeks to develop a more sustainable environment and improve the quality of life for rural dwellers.

“The Programme funds farm modernisation projects, helps businesses improve processing and marketing skills and supports projects which will strengthen supply chain partnerships. Advice, mentoring and training is also available for farmers and their families.

“It will also help to improve the quality of life and strengthen the economy in rural areas by supporting a wide range of activities such as diversification, support for business creation, encouragement of tourism activities, village renewal, basic services for rural communities and upgrading of the rural heritage.

“Over 75% of the total Programme funding will go directly to support the farming sector. However, people living or working in a rural community can access grants to help them start new businesses, support existing rural tourism initiatives or develop new ones.

“Certain measures, such as support for those farming in Less Favoured Areas and forestry, were in place from the start of the programme in January 2007. Other measures have opened steadily since then, and at the end of March this year, over £100 million of Rural Development Programme funds had been paid out. We will continue to make commitments under the Programme until 2013.

“So all in all, rural communities are being given more opportunities to make their contribution to the development of their area. I am confident that the rural economy will benefit and local needs will be met through a wide variety of high quality projects.

“This is a time of great opportunity. By working and growing opportunities together, we will see significant development of our rural economy with more sustainable jobs created in rural areas between now and 2013.”

The Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 is part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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