Association „Local Action Group (LAG) Antonovo-Omurtag” was established in 2007 under SADC Programme implemented in the municipalities of Antonovo and Omurtag.
LAG „Antonovo-Omurtag“ covers the territory of Antonovo Municipality, as established by Decree 2295 of the State Council of the Republic of Bulgaria, Official Gazette issue 101/25.12.1978, and the territory of Omurtag Municipality, as established by Decree 2295 of the State Council of the Republic of Bulgaria, Official Gazette issue 101/25.12.1978. Its area borders on the municipalities of Targovishte, Popovo, Varbitsa, Strazhitsa, Zlataritsa, Elena and Kotel. LAG “Antonovo-Omurtag” covers an area of 879,6 sq.km., which accounts for 32,5% of Targovishte Region and 4,4% of the Northeast Planning Region. Its population density is 35 inhabitants per sq. m., which are distributed in 98 settlements with of 30 990 inhabitants.
The main reasons for the continued activity of LAG on the territory of the two municipalities are laid out below:
1.The unemployment and poverty level in both municipalities is above the national average. Continuuing LAG activities through development of a new strategy for the community-led local development, we will be able to plan and implement projects important to the local communities,to contribute to the creation of new jobs, to stimulate the development of new farms and micro-enterprises on the territory of the two municipalities, to improve the living conditions in rural areas, etc.;
- Due to the limited access to funding sources, especially when it comes to financing of projects in rural areas, the local farmers, contractors and municipal administrations feel highly motivated and ready to participate actively in developing a strategy for a community-led local development and they also have specific project ideas of their own;
- Motivated LAG members, who are willing to work for the development and prosperity of the two municipalities.
Implementation of the projects and the planned activities is based on use of the LEADER Approach and its principles – territorial approach, bottom-up approach, efficient public-private partnership, innovative use of local resources, integrated and multisectoral actions, networking on regional, national and European level, cooperation. Steps for implementation of the project: preparation for project start-up – signing contracts with the project team members, with outside experts and contractors; preparation of information materials; purchasing of necessary equipment, consumables and materials for project management; preparation and conducting of information activities; preparation and start-up of territorial research and analysis; preparation and start-up of the process of developing of the strategy with every sub-stage of the process being consulted with the local community: including public discussions both during the preparation of the strategy and debates on its final version.
The main stages of the implementation of the project activities are:
- Promotion of the strategy development process;
2.Training of the LAG team members, incl. representatives of the partners and local leaders;
- Territorial research and analysis;
- Preparation and development of CLLD.
Association “LAG Antonovo-Omurtag” assumes the responsibility for the implementation of the project and all planned activities. All association members , including the municipal officials of Antonovo and Omurtag, will take active part in the project implementation. Adequate capacity in the field of human resources for the implementation of the activities is also available.
In the course of project implementation, 3 one-day information meetings were conducted in December 2016 in the towns of Omurtag and Antonovo, in order to improve awareness of the activities of the Local Action Group, of the CLLD Approach, of the eligible operational programmes, measures and applicants. Those meetings were attended by 72 representatives of the interested group, who acquired familiarity with the Association’s activities and with the possibility of developing a new strategy for a community-led local development. During the meetings opportunities for project submission under the Programme for Rural Areas Development 2014-2010, Operational Programme “Innovations and Competitiveness”, Operational Programme “Development of Human Ressources” and Operational Programme “Environment” were presented. Among the participants in the conference were representatives of the economic, public and non-economic sectors, as each of them were given information materials containing summary information about the application opportunities for the programmes financed by ERDF, ESF and EAFRD. All invitations to those events were published on the Internet site of LAG “Antonovo-Omurtag” in order to achieve maximum number of interest groups. LAG “Antonovo – Omurtag” also held three one-day-long meetings for public discussion of the developed CLLD Strategy. Those events, which were attended by the representatives of all interest groups, were intended to establish the CLLD structure and the actions envisioned therein.
During the preparation of the present Strategy 100% of all identified sectors and interest groups were covered. The same groupss also participated in the public discussion related to the local development strategy and in the process of its development as well. They were introduced to the draft strategy and gave their opinions, recommendations and ideas to be reflected in the final version of the Strategy for a community-led development (CLLD).
The inclusion of all interest groups was based on the social and economic research previously conducted on the Local Action Group area, as well as on the analysis of the local development potential. At the time of the research, expert information and statistical data essential for the development of CLLD were collected. The socioeconomic and territorial profile was prepared based on a private study, which was supplemented by the data obtained from the initial sociological research. Based on the whole collected information, the final strategy version was completed.
During the preparation, development and popularization of the Strategy nine events in two settlements took place with active participation of ca. 100 representatives of the local community, namely: Antonovo Municipality, Omurtag Municipality, training institutions, schools and kindergartens, community centres and NGOs active in the field of culture and sports, social services, environmental offices, NGOs working in the social and environmental sphere, church boards, trade associations, farmers, forest managers, cooperatives, hotels, guest houses, restaurants, commercial associations in the field of trade, tourism, health care services, as well as artisans and their associations. These groups were identified as local actors interested in the project actions developed by LAG “Antonovo – Omurtag” and willing to participate with their own projects under various measures.
| All interest groups located on the territory of the “Local Action Group Antonovo – Omurtag” were involved in the strategy development process. During the meetings, training courses, seminars, conferences, distribution of questionnaires and collection of project ideas the following groups, identified as being interested in the LAG activities, were involved in the preparation of the Community-Led Local Development Strategy. Public sector was represented by two local authorities – Antonovo Municipality and Omurtag Municipality – through their respective municipal officials. Business sector was represented by trade associations and physical persons active in the field of trade, services, manufacturing and processing, tourism and hotel-keeping, construction, health care provision, transport etc., liberal professionals, farmers, consumers cooperatives;
Non-governmental sector – community centres, NGOs active in the field of culture, sports, tourism, social and environmental sphere, Orthodox church boards and Muslim boards;
Civil sector – local residents, vulnerable groups – unemployed, Roma people, pensioners, people with disabilities.
| Based on the area analysis completed by the working groups and the analysis of the socioeconomic situation in the area covered by LAG “Antonovo – Omurtag”, the following analysis of strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the development of the targeted territory was prepared.
|· The territory’s characteristic as a crossroads’ location, traversed by transport corridors of national and regional importance; beautiful and pure nature, rich cultural and historical heritage, which create favourable preconditions for the development of alternative forms of tourism. Beautiful and pure nature, rich cultural and historical heritage, create prerequisites for the development of alternative forms of tourism – eco and rural tourism, cultural and historical tourism, hunting and fishing tourism. Lack of any significant sources of industrial pollution;
· Lack of areas unsuitable for business;
· Relatively favourable development of demographic processes, relatively higher birth-rate and lower mortality amid the crisis development observed in most municipalities countrywide;
· Unemployed human resources available;
· A well-developed educational system with equipped schools and highly qualified teachers and high territorial coverage;
· Established medical facilities supplemented with complementary structures of above the municipal importance, staffed with qualified medical personnel;
· A well-developed social infrastructure;
· Adequate municipal policy targeting disadvantaged people – invalids, single elderly persons etc.;
· Natural and climatic conditions suitable for development of farming and forestry;
· Good conditions for development of environmentally friendly farming;
· High production quality in farming;
· Good condition for development of livestock and increased interest towards this sector in recent years;
· Preserved biological diversity and natural habitats of protected species and medicinal plants (herbs);
· Presence of a wide specter of small and medium-sized enterprises with flexible, customizable options to a changing market environment;
· High capacity of the local authorities for coordination of partnership in business development;
· Well-developed energy supply network in all local towns and villages;
· Well-organized intercity bus transport;
· Relatively good condition of the municipal road network;
· Availability of a recreation facility with a capacity of 150 beds in the National Children’s Complex “Yastrebino” located on the Main Road I – 4;
· 12 guest houses built in the village of Malka Cherkowna and another 10 in the village of Stara Rechka;
· The local area boasts two of the 100 National Tourist Sites – the “Roman Bridge ” near the village of Stevrek and the “Crooked Fountain” near the village of Stara Rechka;
· Presence of hundreds of monuments of culture of national significance on the territory of the two municipalities;
· The majority of the population speaks two languages fluently;
|· Extremely high unemployment level, high proportion of long-term unemployed persons;
· Low incomes and a decreasing living standard;
· High migration level, particularly among the younger population of small settlements, migrating to municipal centres and major cities;
· Deepening negative demographic trends and low educational attainment of the population
· Depopulation of small settlements;
· Problems with access to health care services due to the lack of medical personnel;
· High percentage of people without health care insurance ;
· Small family farms and bad working conditions in the farming and stock-breeding structures;
· Insufficient modernization of agricultural sector;
· Lack of industry and investment activity and a weak market-related orientation of the small and medium-sized enterprises;
· Absence of high-tech economy;
· Small and medium-sized farmers lack private investment capital, which slows down adaptation and prevents transition to European standards;
· Outdated equipment and technology, low competitiveness, limited local markets;
· Amortized water pipeline network, a large share of drinking water loss due to the high degree of physical wear and tear on internal and external water supply network;
· Water supply restrictions introduced, as the quality of drinking water consumed in a large part of the local settlements is below the national standard;
· Insufficient sewerage network in small settlements;
· Lack of local waste water treatment plants;
· Poor condition of the road network in the local towns and villages;
· Depreciated buildings and material-technical base in cultural sector;
· Underdeveloped tourist infrastructure;
· Limited Internet access and undeveloped information society in the local villages;
· Weak collaboration with businesses;
· Lack of funding needed to ensure repair and maintenance of the local cultural monuments and for the research on the local archaeological sites related to culture;
|· Attraction of investments using EU Structural Funds;
· Attraction of investor’s interest in order to start up and implement business initiatives and investments in farming and forestry;
· Competitive development of small and medium-sized enterprises;
· Opportunities for creation of new jobs;
· Introduction of new methods in education and training of adult persons in order to enhance employment possibilities in the LAG area;
· Development of environmentally friendly farming and stock-breeding;
· Development of a competitive farming and forestry;
· Increasing the number of market-oriented agricultural farms, which meet phytosanitary requirements;
· Establishing of associations of producers and manufacturers for stronger market positions;
· Possibility for development of new economic activities related to processing industry, bio-agriculture etc.;
· Diversification of economic activity;
· Building of transport and technical infrastructure;
· Modernization and completion of the local healthcare system and sports facilities;
· Development of sports and expansion of the range of sports activities;
· Replacement of water-pipes;
· Replacement of the existing amortized sewerage network;
· Building of a city waste-water treatment plant (CWWTP);
|· Continuing impact of the global economic crisis;
· High unemployment rate;
· Low incomes, low level of education and qualification and low living standard;
· Underdeveloped business infrastructure;
· Lack of project preparation capacity needed for successful applying for funding under EU Structural Funds;
· Migration of the population to the regional centre;
· Local people show little interest in applying for financing and use of European funds;
· Ageing local population;
· Depopulation of small towns and villages;
· Lack of marketing strategy and practical skills among the local farmers;
· Inability to attract active investment interest in agriculture;
· Insufficient and inefficient public financial support to municipalities as a region for targeted impact;
· An increasing mismatch between the growing demand on the labour market, vocational training and training of staff;
· Slow development of infrastructure (especially in the sector of water supply), insugfficient to improve living quality in the settlements in
the LAG area;
· Closing of municipal hospitals.
After the six months of work, the Association “LAG Antonovo – Omurtag” has successfully completed the actions under Contract № РД50-92 of 17.08.2016 , Sub – Measure 19.1 „Support for Preparatory Actions” of Measure 19 „Community-Led Local Development” of PDRA for the Period 2014-2020 .
The project team members from the Association „Local Action Group Antonovo – Omurtag” continue their hard work to achieve the final result – ensuring financing for the Strategy.