Farmers and consumers to benefit from €8.7bn plan

THE €8.7 billion provision for the agriculture and food sector in the National Development Plan 2007-2013 will benefit consumers as well as farmers.

Agriculture and Food Minister Mary Coughlan stressed the dual benefit yesterday, pointing out that the package represents an 85% increase on the €4.7 billion total expenditure under the last programme.

Some €2.1 billion of the agri-food provision will be met from the European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development.

“For farmers, this unprecedented investment in Irish agriculture will deliver increases in on-farm investment, enhance our rural environment and secure farmers’ income in the long-term.

“For the consumer it will... underpin quality, nutrition and safety in our food supply chain,” she added.

The measures are spread over four sub-programmes:

Competitiveness (€1.7bn): increased support for restructuring through improved rates under the early retirement and installation aid schemes. On-farm capital investment, training, advice, quality assurance and the establishment of energy crops will also be assisted.

Environment (€6bn): REPS and related support for Natura 2000 will account for some €3 billion. There will be a 17% increase in rates plus enhanced options. An 8% increase in disadvantaged areas scheme payments and a 15% increase in forestry premiums. Support will be provided for animal welfare in the suckler herd and the organic sector.

Food Industry (€289m): investment in capital infrastructure and marketing. The sector will also benefit from related NDP spending under different programmes.

Agri-Food Research (€641m): scientific support to assist the generation of new knowledge and technologies critical to the growth of a market-orientated, sustainable industry.

Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv said the challenge of developing the rural economy was being considered in a dedicated NDP chapter for the first time. This is particularly importance as 40% of the population lives in rural areas.

There is a commitment of €844m for the Rural Social Scheme, the CLÁR Programme, the Western Investment Fund and the LEADER Rural Economy Co-funded European Programme. A total of €489m is provided for the Community Services Programme, which currently funds more than 400 projects. Employment in it will be focused on people with disabilities, the long term unemployed, travellers and lone parents.

A figure of €178m is provided for the Community Development Programme, while the RAPID programme, which aims to ensure that 46 designated areas are prioritised for State funding, will benefit from a 67m fund to ensure speedy delivery of urgently needed small scale projects.

Some €417m is being provided for the Local Development Social Inclusion Programme, which aims to promote social inclusion through locally-based partnership companies.

A total of €197m will be go towards supporting the community and voluntary sector, and €319m will be spent on a National Drugs Strategy sub-programme to tackle the causes and consequences of drug use.

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