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Rural Development Strategy 2007-2013

anuary 2006: CORI Justice Commission's submission to Government on Rural Development Strategy 2007-2013.

CORE POLICY OBJECTIVE ON RURAL DEVELOPMENT

To secure the existence of substantial numbers of viable communities in all parts of rural Ireland where every person would have meaningful work, adequate income and social services, and where infrastructures needed for sustainable development would be in place

 

Submission to the Department of Community, Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Agriculture & Food on preparation for Ireland’s Rural Development Strategy Plan 2007-2013

January 2006

Rural Ireland continues to change dramatically. The 1996 census recorded that 46 per cent of Ireland’s population lived in small villages and in the open countryside. This figure declined to 40.4 per cent (1,582,921 people) according to the results of census 2002 (CSO, 2003:53). A factor in that reduction is the sustained decline in farm numbers. Agriculture, forestry and fishing now account for only 5.9 per cent (112,500 people) of the overall labour force (QNHS, March 2005:7). At present those in farming comprise one-quarter of the rural labour force, and are a minority of the rural population. Furthermore fewer farm children seek a future in farming.

Among its many characteristics rural Ireland has high dependency levels, increasing out-migration, above average poverty rates and many small farmers living on very low incomes. Only a minority of farmers are at present generating an adequate income from farming and, even on these farms, incomes lag considerably behind the national average. The National Farm Survey (Teagasc, 2004) estimates that the average family farm income (FFI) (excluding off-farm income) was €15,504 in 2003.

The survey noted great variations in income depending on the size of the farm and the type of farming pursued. Farmers involved in cattle rearing had an average income of €7,337 while those in dairying had an average from farm income of €30,138. Farmers in tillage and sheep farming had average incomes of €26,282 and €12,900 respectively. An examination of the distribution of farm income reveals that 9 per cent of farmers had an income exceeding €40,000 while 39 per cent of farmers had a ‘from farm’ income of less than €6,500.

Off-farm income is extremely important among farm families, especially in the western region. The National Farm Survey indicates that on 48 per cent of farms the farmer and/or spouse had an off-farm job and that overall on over 60 per cent of farms the farmer and/or spouse had some source of off farm income be it from employment, pension or social assistance. The results of the Household Budget Survey (CSO, 2002:89) further indicate that only 43.8 per cent of farm-household income came from farming. This situation is likely to intensify in the coming years, thus increasing the importance of additional off-farm income being available if rural poverty and social exclusion are to be addressed.

The 2003 EU-SILC results show that poverty is more likely to occur in rural areas than urban areas. The risk of poverty in rural Ireland was 4.3 per cent higher than in urban Ireland with at risk rates of 25.7 per cent and 21.4 per cent respectively. Poverty levels were also greater in the BMW (Border, Midland and Western) region than in the Southern and Eastern region with at risk rates of 26.9 per cent and 21.2 per cent respectively (CSO, 2005a:9).

Another study into the distribution of poverty across Ireland published by the ESRI (2005). Entitled The Spatial Distribution of Poverty in Ireland (Watson et al, 2005) the study used data from 2000 to assess what differences there were between countries. Overall it concluded that the scale of differences based on geographic location was rather modest and that the key drivers of poverty were socio-economic factors rather than location factors. In particular the study suggested that the structural issues driving poverty were unemployment, non-participation in the labour market due to illness/disability or old age, lone parenthood, low levels of education and social class background. However, while the differences were small the study did point out that the highest levels of poverty are found in Donegal, Leitrim, Longford and Mayo with the lowest in counties around Dublin.

There have been increases in the numbers employed in rural Ireland over recent years, but in many cases these increases have lagged behind the pace of national increases. The Census Atlas of Agriculture, entitled Irish Agriculture in Transition, confirms the “striking contrast between the west and north-west and the south and east in the use of land resource”. It states that “the boundary has been shifting southwards and the divergence between these two parts of the state has increased”. It indicates that by 2007 there will be a core of commercial farms operating competitively in a market environment dominated by world farm-commodity prices, located mainly in the southwest. Smaller-scale producers on the fringes of these areas will be increasingly vulnerable to economic forces. A second tier of farmers will depend heavily on direct payments, legitimised on the basis that landholders provide "public goods" especially by managing the environment or because their farms are in disadvantaged areas.

This kind of a shift in the patterns of Irish agriculture has, and will continue to have, real consequences for rural society generally. Long-term strategies to address the failures of current policies on critical issues such as infrastructure development, the national spatial imbalance, public transport and local involvement in core decision-making are urgently required. Recognition that current development policies are largely city-led is also necessary and this approach needs to be re-balanced.

The 1999 White Paper on rural development was welcome in that it provided an outline of a vision to guide rural-development policy as we have advocated for over a decade. In so doing, it accepted that the statement of a vision is a necessary first step in moving forward. CORI Justice Commission also welcomed the identification by the White Paper of much that is already being done under a variety of headings in all areas of rural development. However, there was little in terms of new and imaginative policies proposed for the implementation of the vision, and no commitment of new and measurable resources to attain the objectives set out.

There have been many welcome initiatives aimed at rural development. For example, Budget 2004 made provision for a new Rural Social Scheme (RSS) “to help improve rural services in a more efficient way and at the same time to provide an income for small farmers with a working week compatible with farming” (Department of Finance Budget 2004: A16). It is estimated that there would be 2,500 places on this scheme which was funded initially by the Farm Assist Programme and the Dormant Accounts fund. Places on the scheme, which is run by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, are on an annual basis. The decision to further increase funding to this scheme in Budget 2005 was also welcome.

As this scheme is implemented it is important that the conditions listed above would be eased to ensure that people that are socially excluded in rural situations would not be barred from participating in the scheme.

The context of current rural development policy, however, is one where

  • EU policies in particular ensure that production is concentrated among larger producers, and where regulations, policies and financing all militate against small local producers,
  • direct payments favour large volume, higher income farmers,
  • there is a dominance of the agri-model of rural development,
  • there is very limited progress in achieving balanced regional development. Areas such as the western region have been losing ground to the rest of the country in recent years.

It is clear that the scale of the infrastructure and investment deficit in rural Ireland is unacceptably high. In recent years there have been major spatial changes and there are major spatial disparities as well. The failure of current policies in so many crucial areas requires that long-term strategies be developed to address these failures.

The CLAR programme is going a little way towards addressing these problems. Far more is required if rural Ireland is to be viable in the twenty-first century. A spatial strategy is an essential component of effective planning and development at national, regional and local levels. The 2002 National Spatial Strategy is a step in the right direction. However, Ireland has a long way to go before it could be said that it is meeting the requirement of balanced regional development at these different levels.

Policy Proposals on Rural Development

  • Transform the decoupled direct payment into a basic income for each person.
  • Reappraise the concept of work. In doing this, the potential of the social economy should be incorporated, the range of activities of the Farm Relief Service broadened, and the facilitation of family-farm inheritance should be ensured.
  • Ensure the provision of basic infrastructure and services, based more on principles of equity and social justice, than on cost effectiveness, and take particular account of rural disadvantage
  • Ensure the provision of a reliable and appropriate transport system, by providing resources for the development of local-transport strategies and initiatives tailored to meet the needs of the local community.
  • Reverse the trend of centralising services away from local communities in areas such as healthcare, education, post offices, etc.
  • Structure housing lists to reflect rural needs. In particular, in rural areas, develop a framework to guide planning policy, which is focused on supporting and sustaining viable rural communities and protecting and enhancing the rural environment.
  • Ensure that public-service bodies take steps to inaugurate an effective and ongoing consultative process with all rural people.
  • Overhaul the model for development in agriculture to take effective account of the difficulties of smaller farmers.
  • Reappraise programmes to create employment for part-time farmers with a view to targeting effectively the needs of smaller farmers.
  • Develop policies, which encourage alternative farm enterprises through the promotion of quality (including organic) food production and processing.
  • Support additional special outreach education programmes in rural areas, particularly those where no major third-level colleges are located.
  • Promote research on initiatives that will develop information systems and technologies in a manner that will enhance, rather than detract from, the viability of rural communities