The Vox Vallis Development Association created a rural development programme which can equally manage local economic, social and environmental problems, and can be financed from the Structural Funds. The missing link to the operational system was developing innovative training.
The Vox Vallis Development Association is an independent public benefit organisation, established over 10 years ago. It seeks to assess the local social, economic and environmental challenges facing the region of Koppányvölgy in Outer Somogy, consisting of backward and disadvantaged small villages, and to support sustainable eco-social solutions to help them catch up. The region is characterised by regenerating deep poverty, a steadily reducing population, due to the migration of young people, as well as by a weak entrepreneurial sector and local economy.
The efforts to identify the problems resulted in findings which can be regarded as typical in most of the country. The fundamental problem is that the sectors which rely on the natural capital (primarily agriculture) do not sufficiently contribute to the subsistence of local citizens, continuously burden the environment and weaken the region’s ability to resist climate change and to renew.
The future of the region's social position is predetermined by the fact that local farmers, representing the potential local middle-class, copy the large-scale intensive industrial methods of cultivation; however, in lack of their own harvesters and drying and storage capacity, they lose most of their profits and they can’t get strong enough. Another difficulty is that the once well-established local vocational training (agricultural engineering and mechatronics) has degraded, and young people are leaving the region.
The villages in the area are facing budgetary difficulties. One of their main goals is energy rationalisation and implementing renewable energy generating solutions (biomass, solar, geothermal systems), as the most effective ways to reduce their costs. Currently, over 2,000 local governments in Hungary are planning to implement such community capacities, let alone the financially stronger players of the agricultural sector.
Is there a solution?
Following a several-year-long, scientifically conducted local environmental management assessment work and several study trips abroad, Vox Vallis Association developed a complex local development programme, called Koppány Programme, to manage the problems identified.
In 2011, the Association received funding from the Ministry of Agriculture for the preliminary feasibility study of the idea. Based on the findings, motivating local farmers began by short study trips.
Local vocational training: the bottleneck of regional development
However, the visit to the plants and manufacturers of biogas technology leader Germany ended with ambivalent experiences: on the one hand, they confirmed that the concept is right and applicable; on the other hand, they pointed out an unexpected obstacle. In order to avoid bad references, high-quality manufacturers supplying complex technologies only sell plant technology on condition that the plant is operated by qualified staff approved by them. Hungarian vocational training is not prepared for training such professionals. A little inquiry soon pointed out that the greatest difficulty of operating biogas plants in Hungary is caused by this very lack of professionals. On the one hand, they do not use a well-established, complex technology with supplier guarantee, but one consisting of mosaic-like, distinct elements; on the other hand, they only try to associate the operation with partially fitting professional profiles (plumber and gasfitter, electrician, mechanical engineering technician), and therefore the professionals are not familiar with the entire technology; moreover, they don't know anything about the biological process that the plant is based on.
That was when Vox Vallis Association first came across with the Leonardo Innovation Transfer programme, which offers an excellent opportunity to create a basis for local vocational training by adopting cutting-edge curricula. The preliminary consultations conducted with the existing potential partners within the Association’s network of contacts led even further. They outlined a technician training programme, based on renewable energy technology knowledge, which is capable of training professionals to solve the challenges of rural development in Hungary. The curriculum of the planned training programme will focus on the technology of generating and using renewable energy, with particular emphasis on technologies using biomass produced in agriculture. In order to create sustainable systems, it was also expanded to include specialised knowledge of nutrient management, related to recycling.
The SEE-REUSE project
Based on the above idea, Vox Vallis Association developed its project called “Strengthening European Education in Renewable Energy Utilization for Sustainable Economy” in cooperation with its chosen training partners, Somogy County Regional Integrated Training Centre, an Austrian regional training centre (Berufsförderungsinstitut), a Dutch research institute (Altic bv.), as well as with the ministerial institute engaged in agricultural education and rural development (NAKVI). It seeks to adopt, further develop and supplement leading Austrian and German curricula based on Dutch scientific and consulting information.
As a result of the project launched in December 2012, a modern curriculum has now been developed, which the Association seeks to have registered in the National Qualifications Register as a new technician training programme, using the general part for initial vocational training in engineering and the biomass-based technology part for initial vocational training in agricultural engineering. Before the SEE-REUSE project, there had been no such extensive vocational training in renewable energy technology in Hungary; however, in the more developed economies of Europe, it is a fast developing trend in vocational training. The curriculum adapted is the most up-to-date one currently taught in Europe, which the project significantly further developed in the field of biogas and biomass burning technologies.
As part of the project, the vocational training curriculum was used in various forms of accredited adult education: from the general education of local government and rural development professionals to educating energy plant production, operating biomass heating equipment and biogas plant management.
The sustainable utilisation of renewable energy, particularly that of biomass, is of key importance in adapting to the effects of climate change, and therefore the future of the new training forms developed seems to be secure in the long term. A key to effective training is cooperation with the production plants, in order to ensure the quality of practical training. Vox Vallis Development Association has won funding under the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships programme to continue the project and elaborate the practical training methodology of the training programme developed by the SEE-REUSE project.
Due to the efforts of Vox Vallis Development Association, the Somogy County target of the EU 2014-2020 Regional and Settlement Development Operational Programme has provided funding to creating the regional workshop background to the practical training. According to the regional development plans, biogas plants of such purpose would be established in Törökkoppány (under the Koppány programme), linked to secondary vocational education in the town of Tab and integrated into the training and research activities conducted at the University of Kaposvár. In order to prepare the investments, NAKVI (as of this June, Herman Ottó Institute – the consortium partner of the SEE-REUSE project) is currently designing the plants from KEOP funds.
Apparently, chances are good that a former vision of a local civil organisation can come true in the following years, providing a breakout opportunity to – besides the backward region it represents – the whole county; moreover, it may as well significantly drive progress in developing vocational education in Hungary.
Project website: http://seereuse.hu
Last modified: 16-10-2017