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Unifying theme(s),
integrated territorial development

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Making the most of the environment and
“cultural landscape", the focal point of
the LEADER group of Nord-Saarland (Germany):

Applied ecology


Finding ways to use local natural
and cultural resources, supporting
the commercialisation of organic
and farmhouse products in short
distribution channels, raising
awareness of the quality of the
environment, promoting renewable
sources of energy are all at the
heart of LEADER’s environmentally
oriented intervention in North Saarland.


There are three of them. They are wearing blue overalls, a red bandanna and a black felt hat. Moving around the pile of charcoal that they have built in the great beech forest of Walhausen, they look like they’ve come straight from a Grimm’s fairy tale. “For charcoal, the technique of piling it up into mounds was the most popular in Saarland,” explains one of the three charcoal makers. “The procedure consists of five operations: arranging the logs and faggots in a heap, coating the pile with clay, lighting it, burning it - a process that lasts about three weeks - and removing it from the fire. In our municipality alone, we have found 48 sites where charcoal used to be made. It really is heritage that needs to be protected. Last year, the traditional ‘Charcoal Festival’ that our association organises attracted 30 000 people over a period of two weeks. Each morning, there were 200 schoolchildren who came here.”

Aside from the folklore and the job of preserving the memory of a past activity, the episode of the Walhausen charcoal makers is eminently instructive for those who are not very familiar with Saarland. The smallest Land of Germany (leaving aside the three city states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg), Saarland was not always able to satisfy its energy needs with the fossil coal it mined in the South Saarland deposit, the most productive in Europe. This highly industrial area, famous for its mines, also abounds in trees. Over one third of the land, and even more in the LEADER area, is covered with forests. In Saarland, there are thousands of social, sports and cultural associations like that of our charcoal- making friends (Walhausen has 10 associations for 700 inhabitants).


Coalminers farming the land

“The density and dynamism of the local associations are one of our biggest assets in terms of rural development,” says Kurt König, director of the “Rural Areas, Agriculture and Forestry” department of the Ministry of the Environment of Saarland and responsible for rural policy. His colleague, Ferdinand Ecker, confirms: “The people of Saarland traditionally earned their living down in the mines but at the same time farmed on a very small scale around their home in the country. All these associations are the collective expression of the attachment of the people of Saarland to their village. Today, for the many commuters who work in the city and no longer have an economic activity in the village, it is perhaps a way for them to socially and culturally rid themselves of their ‘guilt’ towards their neighbours who are full-time farmers or rural dwellers. Whatever the case, despite the large-scale commuting to Saarbrücken or even Mannheim, these are certainly not ‘dormitory villages’.”

The local action group (LAG) of North Saarland therefore relies a lot on the networks of associations to successfully carry out the 13 LEADER projects that it has selected. “You’re going to say ‘only 13 projects’ when in other countries the LAGs sometimes have a hundred,” Joachim Herder, coordinator of the LAG, is quick to remark. “What we call a ‘project’ here is in fact a group of several integrated actions, sometimes quite a few. Our great tourist ‘project’, the ‘Train Station of Life’, for example, consists of a series of actions ranging from the organisation of cultural activities to job training, not to mention the development of Saarland’s railway heritage. In total, 1.2 million euros have been invested.”


Cultural landscape

In this densely populated Land (422 inhabitants per km²), local tourism is still an insufficiently developed niche which can offer excellent opportunities for rural Saarland. But it is ecology that is the key to the intervention of the LEADER group whose offices are precisely located in the building of the Saarland Ecology Centre, a complex that combines environmental education and ecotourism. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the Centre is also the headquarters of the “European Federation of Eco-Centres” (, created in September 1999 with twelve Italian, Finnish and Swedish partners for a LEADER transnational project.

But let us return to the Walhausen area. Since 1996, Nohfelden, the municipality where the village is located, has been involved in a vast LEADER project based on the protection of a “living cultural landscape” and the “sustainable use of renewable local resources”. The spirit of the action is in a manner of speaking to recreate the forms of rural “economic solidarity” that existed in the past when people helped one another for urgent work. Some 70 institutions and associations have been participating, including of course the charcoal makers of Walhausen but also a large number of local players, individuals and businesses. The project centres on developing local wood as a commodity and marketing it in short distribution channels. That means promoting a form of heating that uses wood from the local forests and finding outlets for wood of noble species: “here, much of the forest is private and divided up between a multitude of owners, almost everyone has a small stand of trees,” explains Werner Feldkamp, director at the SRB, the Water and Forestry Agency of Saarland, and president of the association “Lebendige Kulturlandschaft Nohfelden” (Living Cultural Landscape of Nohfelden) which is behind the project. “When they remove the brush from their stand, a lot of owners burn high-quality wood like walnut or cherry which could be used to make products of high added value. We are therefore carrying out this action 'Zwischen Brennholz und Furnier' (Between heating wood and veneer) to get all those concerned in the wood sector - owners, sawmills, craftsmen - to collect the noble wood that has to be cleared out of private forests and to use it to make high-quality furniture.” Other actions implemented by the association of Nohfelden, which is also participating in a cooperation project with the LAGs Jura 2000 (Bavaria) and Penser Forêt-Agir Bois (Wallonia, Belgium) include the revived use of fruit trees, the introduction of natural beehives, the creation of thematic discovery trails, the organisation of nature interpretation classes and a research action on the local hunting heritage. About EUR 40 000 have been provided by LEADER to finance the coordination, mobilisation and promotion work needed to keep the project going.


Energy mix

The action begun in Nohfelden has gradually spread to ten municipalities of the LEADER area under the impetus of the Natural Park of Saar-Hunsrück, a founding member of the local action group. The "Ländlicher Energiemix" (Rural Energy Mix) project is being carried out by twelve environmental organisations, associations and enterprises, four of which are LEADER beneficiaries. In addition to marketing heating wood in short distribution channels, they are trying to promote the various renewable forms of energy: biomass from forestry and agriculture, wind power, hydropower and solar energy. “In our area we have operational examples of all these sources of energy,” says Lydia Güdelhöfer, director of the Park Centre. “A lot of individuals but also 3 towns exclusively use wood for heating, 22 hydro-powered facilities are in operation, and 14 wind turbines have been built on a site near the village of Freisen. As for solar energy, I don’t have the figures for the LEADER area, but Saarland as a whole has 7 000 solar panels, the highest rate per inhabitant in Germany.” The Ländlicher Energiemix project is funded by LEADER which, among other things, is for three years paying the salary of a representative, Eva Henn. She organises various awareness operations and does environmental appraisals for businesses and homes.

Harry Schneider knows what environmental appraisals are. In 1998, this young beef and pig farmer, who has his own abattoir and a point of sale on his farm, thought that his heating and electricity costs were too high. He decided to use biogas on his farm despite the large investment of EUR 400 000 of which EUR 72 000 would be covered by the 5b programme. Now the dung and liquid manure from his farm and the cut grass from the lawns of the village of Dörrenbach are put into huge tanks where after five months of fermentation methanol is produced. Not only does the facility supply enough energy to cover all the heating and operating needs, but it also generates additional current - between 350 and 450 kWh a day - which is sold back to the electricity company of St Wendel. “Since 1 April 2000, the electricity distributors have to buy the surplus from renewable sources,” says a delighted Harry, who thinks he will recoup his investment in 10 or 12 years. “Of course with my abattoir, I have a greater need for energy, but I am convinced that biogas is profitable for any farm. The system takes all organic waste and what’s more there’s no longer a problem with odours. It’s quite an advantage, particularly in tourist areas.”

“There are only two biogas farms like it in Saarland, but about 800 in Germany as a whole, especially in Bavaria and Baden- Württemberg,” notes Joachim Herder. “Although he’s not running a LEADER project, Harry Schneider is one of our ambassadors for the utilisation of biomass as energy in agriculture.”

As for Patric Bies, he is the regional ambassador for nonedible plant productions: flax, hemp and especially rapeseed. “The market study that we did reached the conclusion that the use of rapeseed oil as a form of energy offered the best potential in terms of diversification and outlets for farmers,” says the coordinator of "Gesellschaft für nachwachsende Rohstoffe" (Company for the promotion of nonedible plant raw materials) which benefits from EUR 52 000 in LEADER aid in addition to Patric’s salary. At the wheel of a vehicle that runs on unrefined rapeseed oil, he travels across Saarland for appointments, meetings, seminars and other demonstrations that he organises with the same objective: “to encourage producers and consumers to consider these crops both profitable and environmentally friendly. The high fuel prices right now are playing in their favour. I’ve been getting more and more phone calls and people are extremely interested when they see my car in the street.” As for farmers, 35 have already been “converted” and the energy crops already cover 500 hectares.


Short distribution channels

As a complement to various regional programmes and European actions in favour of the environment like LIFE, ALTENER and SAVE, LEADER is used as an educational and mobilising instrument for the environment for the whole of North Saarland. But more indirectly other projects are also working to promote the environment. The Community Initiative is thus supporting the processing of organic and/or farmhouse agricultural products and their marketing in short distribution channels.

In Osterbrücken, a farm has benefited from EUR 200 000 in aid from two LEADER actions. An organic dairy farmer, Michael Schröder in 1994 decided to set up his own dairy. Processing the milk of five other organic farmers, he began producing yogurt and signed an exclusive contract with a major German supermarket chain. This did not prevent the enterprise from trying to diversify. First it opened up to other farmers and other productions (meat, early fruit and vegetables), then it began selling directly to consumers. In 1998, LEADER enabled the dairy to modernise its facilities, to improve product packaging, to engage in more ambitious marketing and to open two shops, one of which in the centre of Saarbrücken, serving as points of sale for 9 agricultural producers. “The hospitals and other bodies still account for 45% of our sales,” says Michael Schröder, “but direct sales already represent 25%, which is almost as much as our contract with the supermarkets. We’re currently testing a home delivery system.”


Against "bad food"

“We are militating against ‘bad food’,” proclaim Silvia Wach and Karlheinz Hillebrecht, food specialists and consultants hired by SEGÖL, the Group of Organic Food Producers of Saarland. The Group is trying to promote organic food among traders, restaurant owners, schoolchildren and the population in general. For this, an innovative operation was found for LEADER. Launched in 1998, the "Tischlein deck dich!" (Little table, set the table!) project, consists in organising twice a month and depending on the season gastronomic meals, master chef contests, wine and cheese tastings, breakfasts, etc. in various restaurants and schools in Saarland. There were 23 events of this kind in 1999. “Organic production still has progress to make from a culinary point of view,” believes Gerhard Kempf, farmer, cheese maker and president of the SEGÖL group. “We have to make our products popular by bringing them ‘on a platter’ into kitchens, homes and cafeterias. It’s a long-term endeavour, and it’s still too early to know the results.” And Gerhard tells a funny story: “our shop is located in a shopping centre in Saarbrücken and the other day the fast food restaurant next to us came to buy some eggs because they had run out! Who knows what the future will bring!”



Surface area: 466 km2
Population: 73 000 inhabitants
LEADER II funding: EUR 4 242 000
EU: EUR 1 455 000
Other public funds: EUR 1 360 000
Private: EUR 1 427 000


c/o REKOSA im Saarländischen Ökologie-Zentrum,
Hofgut Imsbach, D-66636 Tholey
Phone: +49 68 53 9118-14
Fax:+49 68 53 9118-30


source: LEADER Magazine nr.24 - Autumn 2000

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