THE COUNTY KILKENNY food strategy has been set back six months at least, and maybe completely scuppered due to a drafting error in EU legislation.
The food strategy which was launched in October last year at the Savour Kilkenny festival has not been implemented as according to the legislation Kilkenny Leader project can only provide funding for flavoured yogurt and specific types of baking.
The confusion arose at state level within the funding structures of the 5.7bn euro Rural Development Programme. It appears Ireland and other EU countries have been unwittingly breaking Europe’s rules by funding food projects out of the wrong pot. Basic agricultural products that were listed in EC treaties can be funded by a grant from money set aside in a programme called Axis 1. Ireland has been funding these projects from a separate fund called Axis 3. The EU has said that this is not allowed and the funding must come from the Axis 1 programme, however all the money with in Axis 1 has already been allocated in Ireland.
This existing food funding structure has been in place throughout the Member States since the current Rural Development Programme began in 2007, with the error only recently coming to light. As a result funding for small food businesses in Kilkenny is now indefinitely on hold.
CEO of the Kilkenny Leader project, Declan Rice, said that this is going to have huge implications on Kilkenny. He said “Leader provides support to four sectors, Community Development, Renewable Energy, Tourism and Food. One of the legs of our table has been kicked out. We’ll continue to work, but our big plans have been seriously effected.”
Kilkenny LEADER Partnership, a significant funder of small rural food businesses in Kilkenny, is part of a national campaign among LEADER companies which calls on the Irish government to solve the situation as swiftly and resolutely as possible and safeguard the future for existing Irish food businesses and vital Irish jobs.
Kilkenny LEADER currently supports 40 small to medium food producers in the county, with combined turnovers of 15m euro. It also hosts 70 food retail outlets with estimated combined turnovers of 125m euro and 139 Kilkenny businesses involved in food service/food tourism, with combined food turnovers of 104m euro.
The company has a long standing record of supporting local food businesses and has prioritised the development of the Kilkenny food sector in its plan until 2013. Last year Kilkenny LEADER published an integrated Food Strategy for the County entitled “Growing a Local Food Economy”, which it believes will be a keystone in the development of a food enterprise culture, not only in Kilkenny, but throughout the South East.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said that negotiations are under way with the EU to solve the current funding issues. “The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food are currently working together with the European Commission to resolve the issue,” he said.