SAPARD PROGRAMME LASHES OUT
Limits of the subsidies launched under the SAPARD programme will be doubled. The move will allow agricultural producers to rely on free assistance amounting to BGN3MN. So far, the ceiling has been BGN1.5MN. This highest amount will be given to investment projects for the building and modernization of processing enterprises. The free assistance available for farms will be doubled, too. Now the highest amount is BGN500,000. For creating alternative activities in rural areas, SAPARD will launch up to BGN500,000 (compared to the current BGN200,000). The news was announced by the Executive Director of the Agriculture Fund Assen Drumev on June 9, when the fund signed official agreements with farmers stipulating the implementation of 79 projects worth BGN39.8MN. Therefore, there are currently 529 projects under SAPARD that are being implemented. BGN352.09MN has been invested in them.Since the start of the programme in 2000, 175 projects worth a total of BGN94.3MN have been implemented, the Agriculture Fund reported.Mr. Karamishev, when will the EU decision for double raise of the SAPARD subsidies become effective? How will this decision be regulated - with amendments to the Law on Farmers' Support, or with an internal order of the Agriculture Fund?- The decision will enter into force as soon as the amendments to regulations 14, 15, and 16 from May 18, 2001 on the practical application of SAPARD are promulgated. The texts were sent to the Official Gazette office a few days ago. We expect them to be published in the next issue of the paper. Isn't this generous move an attempt to compensate for the slow utilization of the subsidies under the programme?- We are not able to change the speed of utilization by administrative measures. Our role is limited to providing the rules and inviting all those who need investments to apply for EU subsidies. Our two-year experience has proven that larger investments are necessary to build and modernize an enterprise or a farm. For example, it turned out that an EUR1.5MN investment in a company that processes agricultural products is extremely insufficient, considering the high construction and equipment costs. The projects that we've received so far made it evident to us that this limit is only sufficient when companies apply for one of the two - either construction or equipment. Most companies have to meet the lowest sector requirements and in order to do so, they need much more than the BGN3MN, stipulated by the programme. That's why we decided to raise the limit twice - the processing sector must be competitive. It will face the strongest pressure when Bulgaria enters the European Union and the common market becomes open for Bulgarian companies.Despite all problems, you've just approved 79 projects. This is a record figure, compared to past years. Is it an attempt to make up for something?- We have already had a meeting when we approved 99 projects. I do not agree with you. I think that the applicants have already began to prepare quality five-year plans and have appreciated the opportunities this programme could give them. I'd like to underline that right now we are processing 90 other projects that will be discussed during the next meeting in early July. In the past, we used to approve 20 projects because there were no more applicants.The European Commission approved six new measures to support farmers and municipalities in poorer areas. Will they be applied soon?- We are waiting for the decision of the European Commission on the accreditation of the Agriculture Fund which operates as a SAPARD agency. We know from unofficial sources that the entire procedure has been successful. We hope that by the end of the current month the decision will be signed and published in the Official Gazette. Then we'll propose the new measures.Apparently, they will enlarge the scope of SAPARD. The programme will finance entirely and free of charge projects of rural municipalities, cover half of the expenses for various activities in the forestry sector, support the training of farmers...- It's true that the six new measures are very specific and different from the ones applied so far. They are directed towards private natural and juristic persons. One positive thing is that they stipulate different types of support in rural areas. Two of the measures aim at preserving the cultural traditions and improving municipal infrastructure. Projects developed by poorer areas will be given advantage. Another measure will support the investments made by woodland owners. Farmers in all agricultural sectors, aged between 18 and 40, will get an opportunity for professional training.Juristic persons and agricultural cooperatives will be supported in the opening of wholesale markets where farmers will be able to sell their products. Assistance is also provided for farmers who want to join forces in order to be more efficient and competitive.Have you heard from the Agricultural Fund's regional directorates about projects being prepared according to the new measures?- There is great interest, particularly by municipalities, so we may not be able to cover all projects. The resources are limited.Are changes needed in the list of municipalities allowed to obtain financial assistance under SAPARD?- The list was made by the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in September 2000, and was approved along with the National Plan for Agriculture Development in Rural Areas. It includes all 230 municipalities in rural regions. The ministry is the body that defines their level of development. Any change in the social and economic status of a municipality may put its name in this list or delete it from it.