Teresa Canavan took over as CEO of the Rural Development Council (RDC) in Northern Ireland last September. As she looks forward to the year ahead, she has told AgriLand of her hopes and expectations for 2014.

“In the first instance would like to see rural as an asset to the region and not a liability,” she commented.

“There is a need for greater recognition of the importance of rural development and the role it plays in improving the economic well-being and quality of life of all people living in rural areas.

“Rural development is one of those terms that does not refer to a single activity and can often be positioned against or in competition with farming needs. The reality is rural development is about people and place.  It is concerned about the livelihoods of all people in the countryside.  In that regard the concept of rural development must therefore be considered in reference to both farming and non farming rural dwellers.

Canavan continued: “Our vision is of a living, working, sustainable and shared countryside and we want to see rural areas flourish with access to a full range of services, facilities, housing, education and jobs.

“It is often said that history repeats itself and that development moves in cycles and I suppose looking back over years we can definitely identify some of the same challenges and needs.

“Rural development evolved out of the need for jobs, retaining young people, better access to services and quality of life and a strong belief that local people were best place to provide their own solutions. As we begin to emerge from an unprecedented economic down turn, what do we need? We need jobs, to retain young people, services and so a new cycle begins.

“In addressing these needs we believe now more than ever that we need to come up with innovative and effective ways of engaging people, of developing our rural economy and in supporting the resourcefulness of our rural communities.

“Rural problems rarely lend themselves to simple solutions.  The relationship that exists between rural communities, farmer and farm families, rural businesses and the local environment means that actions aimed at addressing rural priorities need to be joined up and carefully designed.

“This calls for greater integration across Government in progressing rural development issues.  We would like to see more effective rural proofing and more evidence that rural circumstances and needs are taken into consideration by decision makers.  This will obviously require adequate resourcing and should be independently monitored.”

Canavan concluded: “There is a need now more than ever for the rural sector in totality to work together in a coordinated way to build a vibrant rural economy in recognition that rural areas represent an important asset base for the region.  RDC is ready and willing to play its part.”