[EXP] Cooperation and urban-rural solutions in Dolina Strugu polish region
From phone to direct marketing: different ways to strengthen links and develop this poor rural region.
Type: Success story
Date of writing: June 15, 2009
Author(s) of this page: Marina GUEDON
Dolina Strugu association (Regionalnego Towarzystwa Rolno-Przemysłowego „Dolina Strugu”) initiated in the 90’s several collective projects for the access to telecommunications (telephone cooperative) and for direct marketing of local products in the region and neighboring city (direct sales network). It has also been training inhabitants - especially young people - to promote business creation and diversification of activities in a region with a strong agricultural tradition.
Regional background and project objectives
The Dolina Strugu (the Strug Valley) covers 300 sq.km and has 40.200 inhabitants.It is a region encompassing nearly the whole basin of the Strug river, located in Podkarpackie region in south-east part of Poland, near Rzeszow. It’s a region with historical patrimony, folks’ culture and whose nature belongs to the Hyzniensko-gwoznicki Landscape Protection Area. The region’s economy is strongly related to agriculture. About two thirds of the total working population work on the 7,000 individual farms located in Dolina Strugu, whereas younger farmers often have a second employment in Rzeszow.[…] The unemployment rate in Dolina Strugu is about 18.3% (PUP 2005). […] Due to the lack of job opportunities and the low income many young people already went to bigger cities or abroad.(1)
Initiators of the project, organisational form
Dolina Strugu (the Strug Valley) is not a geographic name but a partnership existing from the 1990’s. It was created on the base of cooperation of 4 Carpathian communities: Błażowa, Chmielnik, Hyżne i Tyczyn. It consists of: 2 towns and 26 villages.
The roots of this initiative go back to a telephone cooperative that was founded by five representatives of the local government together with twenty local business administrators in 1991. In 1991 these four communes had only access to 800 telephone subscribers and the state-owned telephone company was not willing to invest in this region any further. A cooperative was founded in order to set up a new telephone network, with about 6,500 members. On the basis of the successful experience of cooperation, leading members of the telephone cooperative as well as of local authorities founded a non-profit organisation called “Dolina Strugu”, in order to solve communal infrastructure problems, support the environmental protection of the area, and stimulate economic activity in the region.(1)
Project activities with respect to sustainable development
a. Information society:
The first task which the Strug Valley partnership had to face were telephone services. The founding capital of the cooperative consisted of fees every inhabitant had to pay to join this telephone company. Additional capital was taken from bank credits whereas the communes and some local leaders acted as guarantor. Since 1993 the telephone cooperative has been able to work without any additional financial support. Its activity has resulted in providing the countryside with the latest generation of telephone network. The possibility of using the Internet has come soon after. Opened in 1991, District Phone Cooperative in Tyczyn includes today 9500 subscribers and it provides statutorily free local calls for its 6200 cooperative members. All subscribers can get access to the Internet by DSL links. Additionally, all schools and offices belonging to the Strug Valley use free Internet.
b. Promoting local products though direct marketing
When “Chmielnik Zdroj” started in 1994, its main objectives were to create new jobs for people from the Dolina Strugu region, to give farmers the opportunity to sell their products, to provide people from the region with local, traditionally-made products, and to keep the environment and fields in a good and environmentally friendly condition.It was founded with start-up funds partly from the communes (especially the Chmielnik commune) and partly from a loan secured by using local leaders’ houses as collateral. Initially, the partnership provided the regional population with mineral water, to be ordered by telephone and delivered to their homes. In the following years they added further products and increased their production capacities very fast.[…] In 2005 the partnership employed 400 people and bought products from more than 500 small farms of Dolina Strugu. In the region around the cities of Krakow, Rzeszow, Tarnow and Lublin, they provide, with 170 vehicles, 70,000 households with processed products (vegetables, fruits, honey, bread, soups and pasta). Customers order their purchase by phone or internet and are delivered at home. Farmers have short or medium-term contracts with the partnership, which enables them to sell their products without the need to deliver them to a distant wholesale company. It provides them with a basic source of income and certainty about next year’s market situation. Furthermore, the partnership processes farmers’ products and sells them directly to its customers. In addition, it supports farmers in applying for ecological certification. In the future, farmers will also receive assistance in production planning. Local farmers receive information about EU programmes and assistance in applying for direct payments or other funds for free from an office which is mainly financed by the local non-profit organisation “Dolina Strugu”.(1)
c. Access to labour market:
« Dolina Strugu » also undertook initiatives explicitly directed to improve the situation on the regional labour market. « Dolina Strugu » provides a labour agency for local inhabitants, where job applicants receive assistance to find new workplaces. Especially young job applicants gain knowledge concerning their right preparation for job applications and their behaviour in job interviews. Additionally, Dolina Strugu organises workshops for people who want to start-up a business and for young entrepreneurs. In 2002, with the help of financial assistance from the World Bank, an advisory agency for new business start-ups could emerge as a further initiative. This agency assists interested business starters and existing small enterprises to overcome bureaucracy problems, to find financial resources or to improve the current production. It also offers loans to entrepreneurs if they can nominate two guarantors. The interest rates are way below the ones of commercial credits, which is supposed to ease the start-up of small businesses. Since its foundation the agency has advised more than 400 inhabitants. This is free of charge for the clients, because the costs are covered by the financial assistance of the World Bank.1)
Saving from oblivion regional traditions and culture:
Some activities being worth mentioned include the edition of cookery book with local recipes, together with the 22 Country Housewives Clubs who maintain many old recipes and cook them in local fairs, celebration of harvest…
Main results, lessons learned
Since 2006, Dolina Strugu association have been promoting the local development managing Leader Funds, leading the “Lider Dolina Strugu” LAG. The Dolina Strugu activities are welcome by local communities that actively participate in them. More and more groups including farmer’s wives’ associations, other local associations and many informal groups develop their functioning. “Chmielnik Zdroj” has had a widely perceived impact on broader rural development goals. It provides non-farm jobs, contributes to the local infrastructure development thereby improves the economic situation of rural households and counteracts out-migration of young people. In addition, consumers’ demand for regional and environmentally beneficial products is met. An indirect impact is the increased number of businesses in Dolina Strugu compared to other rural communes in the region. In the four communes of Dolina Strugu, the number of businesses per 100 inhabitants increased between 1995 and 2001 from 2.2 to 5.1, whereas in other rural communes near Rzeszow this number increased only slightly from 2.2 to 2.3 per 100 inhabitants in the same period (UNDP 2003).(1)
Future challenges and perspectives
The main activities are focused at the present on implementation of the project realized within Leader+ Programme. The aim of the project is to activate local communities for participation in the process of development in Dolina Strugu region.
(1):quoted from “Experience with Endogenous Rural Development Initiatives and the Prospects for Leader+ in the Region “Dolina Strugu”, Poland”
Dolina Strugu brochure and presentation document for Forum Synergies;
GRAMZOW, A. (2005): Experience with Endogenous Rural Development Initiatives and the Prospects for Leader+ in the Region “Dolina Strugu”, Poland. IAMO Discussion Paper No. 89. Halle (Saale). www.iamo.de/fileadmin/institute/pub/dp89.pdf
Scale of intervention : Local