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[ Contents ]

Creating jobs in rural areas

 

New businesses and job creation
in the Mezzogiorno (Alto Casertano, Italy):

The LEADER push

 

The mountainous areas of Campania,
like Alto Castertano, are seeing a new
economic culture take hold. For the
young people of these marginalised areas,
profession no longer rhymes with
administration or emigration but with
creation and innovation. A new brand of
talking and thinking has developed
which LEADER is helping to spread.

 

From the belvedere of Caserta Vecchia, a fortress village set high up in the hills some ten kilometres from the provincial capital, it is possible to take in the socio-demographic duality of Campania at a glance. In the foreground is the very urbanised plain which stretches outwards from the Gulf of Naples, dotted with large fruit farms on either side of the Autostrada del Sole. In the background are the mountains, the highlands of the province of Caserta known as Alto Casertano where everything seems to be part of another world.

Like most of the rural areas of the Apennines, the backbone of the Italian peninsula, Alto Casertano has for decades seen its population "descend" on the coast or go abroad. "But things are changing, there is no more 'promised land' and our region is becoming attractive again; capitalising on this change is what our action is all about."

That is how Pietro Andrea Cappella, adviser and director of the local action group, puts it. Alto Casertano has been benefiting from a LEADER programme since 1992, but while LEADER I encompassed both Piedmont and the mountains, LEADER II has focused on the mountain areas. Seventeen towns comprising "Mountain Communities" "had priority because of their isolation and specific difficulties," explains Antonio Falessi, coordinator of rural development for the Campania Region.

Making an area, that was for so long neglected, attractive again, and creating business activities and jobs there by taking advantage of the local agricultural, craft, environmental, cultural and tourist resources are the LAG's clear ambitions. And this is not a simple declaration of good intentions: a look at all the LEADER projects implemented here challenges generally accepted ideas of the Mezzogiorno, a region that people believe is rigidly set in its fatalism, archaisms and underdevelopment.

"For some time now, we've been seeing the emergence of a new economic culture," says Angelo Milo, vice president of the LEADER group and provincial head of the Coltivatori Diretti Federation, the leading agricultural trade union in Italy. "Rural people are beginning to take the future into their own hands. Today, the reflex of young people is no longer to find a public service job or go abroad but to start up a business, and we can never stress enough LEADER's role in this change of mentality in terms of approach and risk-sharing."

 

"Nuova ImprenditorialitÓ"


Daniele and Giovanni Antonucci, owners of a family-run delicatessen, modernised and re-energised with LEADER's help (2 new jobs), confirm that in the valley of Piedimonte Matese, for example, a number of businesses are starting up in many sectors. Other project holders tell the same story, even citing several cases of people who had emigrated to Switzerland or elsewhere and had come back to work in the country.

Nonetheless, there is an inescapable reality: in an area where the unemployment rate is still over 30%, creating a business is not necessarily an entirely free decision, even less an ideological choice... People start up a business "by default", to create a job for themselves that even the city can no longer offer. However, for the "new entrepreneurs" of Alto Casertano, the Community Initiative for rural development helps make positive what is often a difficult choice in the beginning. This is clearly expressed by Francesco Ventriglia, a snail farmer who, with ECU 58.000 in LEADER II funding, is going to branch out into the frozen snail business: "Our only solution is to have a business, but LEADER helps us because it's one of the only programmes around that directly benefits operators."

The first benefit for operators is training. "It is a dimension found in most of the projects supported. Especially when the project involves the professionalisation of an activity or the creation of a business," says Ercole De Cesare, president of the LAG. Between March and October 1998, twenty future entrepreneurs took 360 hours of lessons in business management organised by the local action group. Four of them are going to receive LEADER II financing in the following fields of activity: outdoor chicken farming, snail farming, the manufacture of insulating glass, tourist services (organisation of sightseeing trips, guided walks and activities based on the more daring sports like hang-gliding). "In the beginning, we were very sceptical. LEADER helped us make the leap and we're very happy we did," say Pasquale Monaco and his wife Claudia Delle Femine. Claudia's mother owned 10 hectares of chestnut trees whose crop she merely sold in bulk. It was enough for her to live on, but clearly insufficient to assure the future of her daughter and son-in-law who wanted to stay in the country. The coordinators of the LEADER group convinced them to start processing chestnuts.

Setting up a workshop and installing an oven would cost euros 26.000. Pasquale and Claudia contributed euros 15.500, LEADER provided the rest. Today, the business is producing chestnuts in syrup, chestnut cream and liqueur, all new products for the region that are sold in some 150 upmarket delicatessen shops across Italy. From euros 10.000 in 1995, sales rose to euros 50.000 in 1998. "We are now making a living with chestnuts and want to expand in order to be able to export. We already have openings in Vienna, London and Copenhagen."

But if the Alto Casertano LEADER programme places emphasis on "Nuova Imprenditorialita" (new businesses), most of the projects supported concern the development and diversification of existing companies, with the creation of salaried jobs. LEADER I is to have generated an estimated 80 new jobs or additional business, and LEADER II is expected to help create 42 jobs, including 36 full time in 14 companies.

 

Work & Health


The six Telaro brothers are a good example of a South that is beginning to win. Encouraged by the agri-environmental measures of the Common Agricultural Policy, these young wine-makers turned to organic wine-making in 1987, creating the "Lavoro & Salute" (Work & Health) cooperative that today has 13 producers. At the foot of the Roccamonfina mountain, the Telaro brothers' farm (63 hectares, 35 hectares of which are vineyards) had three empty traditional buildings which drew the attention of the local action group. "The people of the LAG told us: 'you satisfy all the conditions to go into the agri-tourism business'," recalls Luigi Telaro, president of the cooperative. "The idea appealed to us, but it was not as easy as that: aside from Apulia, farm tourism is quite new in the Mezzogiorno and we had no model 'on hand'... After much hesitation, we finally let ourselves be convinced and I must say that we have been pleasantly surprised."

There is reason to be so: barely two years after the decision to go into the business, tourism generated euros 155.000 in turnover in 1998, accounting for 30% of the income of Lavoro & Salute. "What's more, our wine sales are up 20%, because the two activities are obviously connected," says Luigi who adds that tourism has led to the creation of four full-time jobs. LEADER paid 62% of the total investment representing about euros 310.000. The main cost was for restoring and furnishing the three buildings (24 beds). The success of this diversification has encouraged the cooperative to become more involved in tourism, opening a restaurant at the site and creating an artificial lake for fishing. Lavoro & Salute has clearly understood the importance of developing activities for guests during their stay. In 1998, around 20.000 people were attracted to the games and sporting events it organised, such as a fishing competition, a football tournament, an ultra light aircraft rally, etc.

 

Voluntary consultants


"Seeing how successful we've been, at least two other farmers have switched to farm tourism" says Luigi. "Our experience is an example in itself, but we are also 'voluntary consultants', always there to give advice to farmers who want to go into tourism. After all, people helped us, now it's our turn to help others..." Luigi tells the journalist who is surprised by so much altruism: "We are militants of the environment and staunch supporters of agri-tourism. In any case, from a strictly business point of view, we are not afraid of competition because the demand for this type of tourism is much greater than the supply. We have to turn back customers... And the greater the tourism dynamic in the region, the better it will be for our own business."

Vincenzo Marsella is another "militant of organic farming". He moved back from Rome to take over the family farm: 100 hectares of irrigated land, producing two crops a year of organic vegetables and spelt, a rustic variety of wheat. In 1995, he applied for and obtained ECU 22.000 in LEADER aid to set up a unit to pack different varieties of peppers, small aubergines, etc. in oil. Two years later, the firm began to make spelt bread and biscuits that it sells in the three small shops that it opened in 1998. There are now 7 employees working at "Casa Marsella", and 5 of them are full time. The business applied for assistance under LEADER II to buy equipment to increase the quantities of spelt processed. "LEADER has helped me twice," reveals Vincenzo: "it helped me return to the country and showed that a farm can operate with organic and traditional crops. The idea that a farm itself markets the type of products that we process has not yet gained widespread acceptance in Italy. Here, we already have a following: in Vairano and Pietra Vairano, two groups of women have launched into the same type of activity."

"LEADER is the blueprint for what is sorely missing here in the South, support services," notes Alberto Grillo, who benefited from LEADER I financing to buy a high-performance plotter for his printing works, creating four new jobs. "Businesses need to form associations to help one another and pressurise the public authorities, the banks... Did you know that interest rates for commercial loans in the Mezzogiorno are on average 5% higher than in the rest of Italy?"

 

A meeting of minds


"The LEADER contribution is much more a state of mind and a method than financial aid," claims Francesco Vespasiano, one of the promoters of a LEADER II heritage awareness action involving six of the area's schools which each "adopted" a monument or a cultural site that it promotes. "An entrepreneur can find money elsewhere. What LEADER provides above all is the opportunity to come together, a meeting of minds so to speak imposed by the programme... In the case of our project, it is the coordination work of the LAG and the 'LEADER guarantee' that won over the schools, initially very reticent to participate in the 'Adopt a monument' operation." In an area with so much going for it but so little being done to promote it, putting the environment to work is an important part of the LEADER group's strategy. At the top of Alto Casertano is mount Miletto (2 050 m) beyond which stretches an immense basin formed by Lake Matese. At an altitude of over 1.000 m, it is a place of wild beauty on par with Connemara in Ireland or the Scottish Highlands. The regional authorities are discussing plans for a natural park, but the LEADER group is already going to open a Centre for Environmental Education whose purpose is, among other things, to help the local socio-economic players - farmers, craftsmen, tour operators - be more environmentally responsible in their work. Set up in 1999, the centre should create 5 jobs.

Far from being isolated, the Centre will benefit from a lot of local development experience close by: part of the land (346 hectares) that surrounds Lake Matese has been used for grazing by the "Falode" cooperative since 1982. There are between 200 and 250 brown Alpine cows and a thousand sheep there, and all their milk goes to make cheese. For a long time, the 20 members of the cooperative had to cope, for better or for worse, with a permanent flow of sightseers drawn by the majestic beauty of the site. In 1992, they decided to turn this to their advantage and opened a mountain chalet with 4 rooms and a restaurant. In 1994, LEADER helped the enterprise move into high gear: ECU 200.000 in aid was granted to turn the site into a genuine eco-tourist complex with a fully-equipped camping site, additional accommodation (36 beds), picnic grounds and the possibility for all kinds of sport: horse riding, mountain biking, mountain climbing, hang gliding, archery, etc. Six part-time jobs (weekend, holiday and summer work) were created. It goes without saying that all these facilities, built of wood and natural stone, perfectly blend into the landscape.

"I would like to stress one thing about LEADER that is important to us," says Marie Iuliano, head of the tourist division at the cooperative: "the programme has led to the creation of a 'Regional Agri-Tourism Board' which in a way has officially endorsed farm tourism. Before, we didn't exist. Recognition by the regional authorities makes it a lot easier for us to do our job and helps us cut through a great deal of red tape."

 

Bureaucracy


Bureaucracy is indeed the number one problem encountered by entrepreneurs and project holders.

Bruno Finelli and Lidia Bevilacqua are makers of stained-glass. Their firm is set up "Italian style", with a workshop in the basement of their home, because, they say, "as is often the case in Southern Italy, there is no business park in the town." But that's not the problem: "the problem is the lack of skilled workers in our sector, and, especially, bureaucracy." Thus in January 1999, they were still waiting to be paid the final ECU 10 329 tranche granted to them under LEADER I (!) to buy a kiln and a high-pressure sander.

"Luckily for us we had equity," explains Bruno, "otherwise, I don't know what we would have done... Whatever the case, LEADER has been a stimulus that has tipped the balance in favour of the new investment."

"Italy, and the South in particular, is a very bureaucratic society," recognises the rural development coordinator of Campania, Antonio Falessi. "But there too, LEADER has taken a novel approach by beginning to introduce more flexibility and modernity in the Region's administrative practices. But it is a long-term effort and conflict is inevitable between a pilot action like LEADER and administrative traditions that are sometimes paternalistic... Personally, I believe that setting specific objectives and deadlines can do a lot to speed up procedures. That is what we are trying to do with LEADER II."

For this report, the local action group convened to its offices some twenty people concerned with LEADER, including a number of project holders. It was an opportunity to review the situation, talk about expectations and difficulties, share views on Alto Casertano's prospects for development. It was one of those "meetings of minds" or "local networking" from which emerged a sense of general serenity that is summed up by Renato Delellis, head of an association of craftsmen called "Lo Scudo" (The Shield) which has a LEADER II project: "it is the history of this region that makes me optimistic. In the past, there were hundreds of businesses, in all kinds of sectors. The Mezzogiorno has suffered from certain political and economic decisions made in the course of the 20th century. But I am sure that we can restore this tradition, this 'Golden Age', through the dynamism of the entrepreneurs, combined with support instruments like LEADER and... less bureaucracy."

 

LEADER ALTO CASERTANO

Area: 532,28 km▓
Population: 42 402 inhabitants
Financing LEADER II: ECU 2 291 921
EU: ECU 1 482 371
Other public funds: ECU 522 399
Private: ECU 287 150

GAL Alto Casertano

c/o Consorzio di Bonifica Alifano
Vialle della LibertÓ, 75c
I-81016 Piedimonte Matese
TÚl: +39 0823 785 869
Fax: +39 0823 785 075
E-mail: galalto@matese.peoples.it
consgal@matese.peoples.it

source: LEADER Magazine n░20 - Spring, 1999


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