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article imageLatest Welsh rural development scheme receives mixed views Special

By Mathew Wace Peck     Nov 3, 2010 in Business
Wales - Some farmers in West Wales are piloting a scheme to provide their skills and services to the general public, in order to survive the current economic climate. But not everyone is enthusiastic.
The Rural Skills Resource is a project that aims to match farmers’ surplus skills to the wider community. It is a joint initiative between PLANED and the Pembrokeshire Machinery Ring (PMR), and will be funded by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development through the 2007–2013 Welsh Rural Development Plan.
PLANED (or, Pembrokeshire Local Action Network for Enterprise and Development) secured the funding for the scheme, which it hopes will become self-sustaining in due course.
So far, in it’s been reported that 50 Pembrokeshire farmers have signed up to the project. One of them, Paul Evans, lives just outside Wolfscastle, and combines his farming with plumbing. Speaking to Gwlad, Evans emphasised the need for farmers to diversify. He said: “It is important for farmers to develop a range of skills to survive. I am always doing something different.”
Meanwhile, PMR’s Graham Perkins told Gwlad that the scheme would help farmers supplement their incomes:
Farmers take for granted skills such as hedge-trimming, mole and vermin control, garden maintenance, as well as more general areas such as odd jobs, book keeping and even catering.
There is a very real opportunity for them to make extra money by providing a paid service to meet the considerable demand in the county.
We need to find something for people to do outside the busy contracting season if we are to keep people on the land and available for the agricultural industry.
Agriculture in West Wales has been in terminal decline for many years, with small family farms being worst hit. Many have gone out of business altogether, and large areas of hitherto agricultural land has been built upon, thus changing the whole nature of the countryside.
Disconnected communities
As with many other rural areas in Wales, the UK generally and wider Europe itself, the nature of the Pembrokeshire countryside has further changed because of the large influx of people moving to it from urban areas.
Inevitably, this has led to the development of a real disconnect between the farming and non-farming communities, as more and more people who live in the countryside are either not employed in agricultural work or don’t work in the countryside at all, instead commuting to the towns and cities they’ve moved away from.
Mike Foxwell still lives on his small farm in Pembrokeshire, but was forced to give up his commercial agricultural business some years ago. Over the years, he has seen a number of farming initiatives come and go, and is more than a little sceptical at this latest one.
Earlier today, Foxwell spoke at length to Digital Journal. Of the Rural Skills Resource project, he said:
This sounds like one of those schemes thought up by office-bound bureaucrats who seem to think that there is work of all kinds going begging in Pembrokeshire. This is simply not the case. There are skilled people of all kinds, whether they be plumbers, forest workers or whatever, who can’t get enough work to make a decent living. How is adding more competition for far too little work going to help anyone?
The problem small farmers face is making enough money out of their farming, and that’s the problem that needs to be tackled head on. What they don’t need is another load of government-sponsored gimmicks that don’t tackle the real problem.
Foxwell also spoke more generally about the changes he’s witnessed to the area where he lives:
The same thing has happened now in Pembrokeshire as has happened in much of rural England. Affluent incomers have pushed up house and land prices beyond the reach of what local people who already live and work on the land can afford.
Local people are, therefore, increasingly marginalised within their own communities and have become part of the growing poor underclass in once familiar surroundings. The areas in which they live, often where their families have lived for generations, have been overtaken by well-healed yuppies, driving around in huge SUVs they don’t need.
Added to this is that, often, these new residents work outside the communities in which they’ve come to live and spend the best part of their incomes outside those communities, too.
We would all be better served if government officials tackled these problems instead of ticking boxes and chasing the next round of funding possibilities.
Only time will tell whether or not the Rural Skills Resource project can provide a welcome boost to the agricultural economy in West Wales and help unite its increasingly separate communities in the process.
More about Farmer, Wales, Welsh assembly government, Mike foxwell, Paul evans
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