Investment in rural Spain’s sustainability

The European Commission has pledged substantial funding for in four of Spain’s autonomous regions, aimed at promoting sustainable development activities in depressed rural areas.

These are the first financial pledges of the Commission’s Leader+ initiative, funded by the EU’s agriculture budget, which will see over €2 billion (£1.3 billion) given to support the development of rural businesses across the Community by 2006. The four regions in Spain to receive a total of €216.5 million (£137 million), of which the EC has pledged the lion’s share, are ideal candidates for the funding, being some of the EU’s most rural areas and suffering from high unemployment driving inhabitants away and threatening the sustainability of communities.

The funding will be provided to local groups and is open to numerous applications, but all must “support local initiatives for long-term development strategies” and have farms, farming families and small businesses at their core. The Commission cites environmental protection and conservation and the development of environment-sensitive tourism activities based on the cultural and natural heritage as two funding opportunities.

The four autonomous regions to receive the funding are: the large central region of Castile-Leon, with a rural population of about 500,000, which will receive almost half of the funds; Galicia, in the west, with 1.9 million rural inhabitants, the highest proportion nationwide, receiving almost a third of the funding; the small, rural region of La Rioja, with 138,000 non-urban residents; and the Canary Islands, parts of which are still untouched by mass tourism, with 420,000 rural inhabitants.

“This programme aims to pilot new ideas to help build a more sustainable society, economy and environment for rural Spain,” commented Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries. “We want to improve the quality of life for all those who live in rural areas. Leader+ will help to add value to local products and to make the best use of natural and cultural resources.”

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