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Agriculture and rural development

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LEADER and agriculture in Carinthia (Austria): local linkages

In this Alpine region where most farmers have several activities, LEADER and the other instruments supporting rural development are aiming to consolidate locally jobs, income and quality of life. The strategy chosen - to organise genuine "sectors of development" with traditional but for many years underutilised local agricultural products - is reactivating the entire economy of the three areas of Carinthia concerned by the Initiative.

The LEADER area of Grossglockner-Oberes Mölltal, which stretches from the "roof of Austria" (3 798 m) to the lower basin of the Möll, is one of those places where the expression "upstream... downstream" takes on its double meaning, geographical and economic. In this upper valley on the western edge of Carinthia, the local action group has chosen to revalorise a traditional but declining production: wool. Taking over and completing an action begun by the Upper Tauern Nature Reserve, programmes 5b and LEADER have made it possible to organise a sector whose main links - production, processing and marketing

- literally follow the course of the river: upstream, the high mountain pastures and sheep of the 50 or so farmers involved as well as a modern unit to wash, card and spin the wool; in the centre of the valley, the weavers and other processors of wool who work at home, often farmers' wives; downstream, the sales outlets and in particular the shop of the "Regionalverein Grossglockner" association of 150 socio-economic actors of the valley and a boutique - "Mode & Design KM" - which creates and markets all kinds of clothes combining tradition and modernity, particularly "jeans from Carinthia", a local version, revised and adjusted, of the inescapable American pants.

"From sheep to woollen stockings"

"This boutique is the core of our project 'Goldärmel' (*) which consists in marketing wool clothes produced by local craftsmen and designers," explains Maria Schmidl, who divides her working time between the local secretariat of LEADER and management of the shop of the Grossglockner association opened in 1995 at the entrance to the valley. "In parallel to our 'Gold Trail', we can now speak of a genuine 'Wool Trail' which goes down the valley. It is a complete economic sector, which goes from 'the sheep to woollen stockings'. Wool is a dynamic sector: more and more consumers are showing interest in it and are prepared to pay more for handmade products. In the past, this wool was thrown away. Now, it is the basis of a complementary activity with good value added which particularly benefits numerous farmers and complements tourism ."

In addition to its large range of woollen goods, the shop enables some 300 farmhouse and artisanal products to be marketed. The association has 140 members, and this new sales outlet (three permanent part-time employees) made ECU 70 000 in sales turnover in 1996.

In their thirties with two children, Georg and Elisabeth Fellner form a farming household particularly representative of the valley. Their ten-hectare farm being unable to provide them with a sufficient income, Elisabeth weaves wool blankets while Georg works in the winter at the ski station. He is also member of the "Innovation in farming" group set up in the framework of LEADER. "Most of us have more than one job but some work at their second activity as far away as Munich, over 200 km from here. They are weekly commuters, a situation that is not very convenient... We are therefore trying to make it possible for them to have all of their work in the valley. To do this, our working group has chosen to promote the organisation into sectors of productions processed on the farm. Wool is the leading sector, but there is also cheese, meat and prepared meat products. 20% of the farmers here are also farmhouse producers."

Through programme 5b and LEADER, a collective slaughtering unit (sheep, pigs and cows) is already operating in Heiligenblut, the most remote village, and four others are going to be built in as many villages. The entire agri-food production, which is based on organic methods, follows a quality charter guaranteed by a label. "In general, programme 5b finances the equipment and LEADER, which is beginning to take over, ensures back-up support for the projects - studies, promotion, marketing, etc.," points out Christian Kropfitsch, director of KIR, the Carinthian Institute for Local Development (see boxed text).

Priming the pump

With about one third of the funds already committed (June 1997), Carinthia is the Austrian region furthest along in the implementation of LEADER II, and in the framework of its programme, it is the area of Grossglockner-Oberes Mölltal that has the most projects already operating. "The north of this area benefits from the presence of Austria's oldest National Park, founded in 1981, where rural development actions have been conducted for a long time," explains Kurt Rakobitsch, LEADER coordinator for the Land. "By incorporating the 5b projects and LEADER in the action already undertaken by the Park higher up in the valley, we could save time and be more effective, achieve a certain visibility and, in this way, 'prime the pump' of local development, not only in this valley but also in the two other LEADER areas of Carinthia."


In the Rosental ("Valley of the Roses"), along the Drave, we find this same linkage approach which makes it possible to develop an area-based identity, culture and image, environmental responsibility, farming, tourism, additional income or even full-time jobs for the inhabitants.

Here the unifying product is the carnica bee, a very productive native species that the region exported by the trainload all over the world between 1850 and the 1930s. Beekeeping then declined, but still today the region produces 35% of Austria's honey. There are some 200 beekeepers here, most members of a professional organisation with which, inter alia, the local action group has elaborated a two-pronged strategy: association of the eight municipalities to promote the valley's image (widespread use of the name "Carnica Rosental", a logo displaying the carnica bee, etc.), development of an integrated beekeeping sector.

Ernst Fuchs, head of beekeeping in the LAG and a real walking encyclopaedia on bees, could talk for ever about the action undertaken: "the reactivation of the beekeeping sector is based on three steps, all co-financed by LEADER: the breeding of queen bees in order redevelop a pure carnica breed (a laboratory will soon be built), the professionalisation of producers, even if they are all part-time beekeepers, the development and marketing of innovative products derived from honey. All of this must be accompanied by a rediscovery of the bee as guardian of the natural and cultural heritage."

The sector's standard is the Museum of Honey in Ferlach opened in 1995 and also situated at the entrance to the valley. In addition to everything related to beekeeping and the history of the activity, one can find there the range of new products already marketed: organic honey, wax and propolis of course, but also honey-flavoured salami, muesli, liqueur, special honey beer made by a large brewery in Klagenfurt (which allocates a percentage of its profits to research on bees) and a new type of more productive hive. In September 1996, 20 beekeepers created a selling group and are now developing a label.

Noah's Ark

Already briefly mentioned in the case of the carnica bee, the reintroduction of nearly extinct native animal breeds is another major dimension of the development strategy of the three LEADER areas of Carinthia.

Further south, at the foot of the Karawanken (2 000 m) which form the border with Slovenia, Friedhelm Jabinschek and his association "Alpen-Adria" (60 farmer members) only recently reintroduced the "sheep with glasses" or Brillenschaf, an old breed of sheep common to Southern Austria, Slovenia and Italy's Friuli region. Practically extinct towards the end of the Second World War, the herd now has 400 head.

The only labelled sheep in Austria, its savoury meat is beginning to be marketed, in particular in ten restaurants in Carinthia. "Demand is very high," says Friedhelm, "our advertising campaign actually exceeded our selling capacities!" Friedl believes above all in private investing: the production's promotion is entirely financed by the Alpen-Adria association; watches, T-shirts, umbrellas, etc. bearing the effigy of the valuable sheep are sold at fairs and other events that the association organises during the year and along a Transhumance Road that is being marked out. "Our aim is to be totally self-financing within three years, to outlive for example the two programmes that have helped us along, LEADER and INTERREG. LEADER has enabled us to take on the market by financing the necessary technical assistance, INTERREG helps us to recruit and organise the sheep farmers in Slovenia.

"The Community assistance has enabled us to improve the standing of relatively 'unrelocatable' agricultural productions like traditional local breeds, something that was not possible before Austria's entry to the European Union," says Raphaël Pliemitscher, head of the association of farmers who breed golden cows comprising 60 farmers from the Norische Region LEADER area from where this very rustic breed originally comes. These farmers have turned part of their farm over to what was in the past considered "the best cow of the Austro-Hungarian Empire". It is still possible to speak of sector here, since the operation concerns cattle farmers, butchers, caterers, tourist operators and local population, promotion of the "golden cow" involving the organisation of village fetes.

In German, local development is called "regional development": in Austria like in Germany, a "Region", a territorial unit referred to for rural development actions, is in fact a living basin usually corresponding to a valley or group of valleys having historically a cultural, economic and social unit. The sectors developed in Carinthia are promoting this identity and, as the LEADER head of the Norische Region, Barbara Klemens, says, "putting farmers back at the heart of rural development."

* "Golden Sleeves", a play on words referring to the artisanal quality of the clothes and an old activity of this region which has a gold deposit unexploited today. Gold constitutes a unifying image for tourism in this area: the "Gold Trail" is a network of walking paths across Grossglockner-Oberes Mölltal.


Surface area of the region	: 1 586 km2 
Grossglockner-Oberes Mölltal	:   596 km2;
Carnica Rosental		:   467 km2;
Norische Region			:   523 km2)

Population			: 45 928 inhabitants
Grossglockner-Oberes Mölltal    :  8 577 inhabitants
Carnica Rosental		: 22 475 inhabitants
Norische Region			: 14 876 inhabitants

LEADER II funding		: ECU 8 400 000
EU				: ECU 2 900 000
Other public funds		: ECU 2 900 000
Private				: ECU 2 600 000

LEADER II Geschäftstelle Kärnten
Amt der Kärtnter Landesregierung
Abteilung 20 Landesplanung, 
Sachgebiet Orts- und Regionalentwicklung
Wulfengasse 13, A-9020 Klagenfurt
Tel    : +43 463 536 32062
Fax    : +43 463 536 32007
E-mail :

source: LEADER Magazine nr.15 - Summer 1997

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