(Reuters) - Laszlo Jaroka herds swine for a living in eastern Hungary, at the furthest edge of the European Union - employed by his village under a unique scheme to help struggling locals make ends meet.
Rozsaly, near the border with Romania and Ukraine in one of the country’s poorest regions, pays local workers to grow crops and raise livestock to help the village feed itself and ease the poverty that has affected it for generations.
Last year, it was also among the first places in which the Hungarian government introduced its new public works scheme, which aims to help hundreds of thousands of mostly unskilled people back into the labour market.
Jaroka, 46, looks after the pigs, and the local government slaps a little extra on his public works paycheck.
His family lives on a total monthly income of 80,000 forints. That’s enough to make ends meet, although educating his two children is still tough, Jaroka says.
Officially, unemployment in the region runs at about 16 percent but the reality is much worse, with many households subsisting on welfare and income from seasonal farm work or uncertain jobs in the grey economy.
Investors and employers have traditionally ignored the region, which is 330 kilometres east of Budapest but feels decades behind. Just a few streets from Mayor Zoltan Sztolyka’s office, at the end of a dirt road, many local Roma live in houses without basic amenities like running water.
Sztolyka says he can employ 85 people under the public works scheme out of 128 villagers currently registered as unemployed.
Many of them work in the fields to help make the village self-sufficient in food, a long-standing local goal.
When state farm cooperatives were dissolved in the 1990s following the collapse of communism, the municipality kept some of the farmland on which now it grows crops and vegetables. It also has farm machinery and a herd of swine, which it sends to its own slaughterhouse.
Using these precious resources, the village provides free lunches at the local school and nursery, where most of the children come from deprived families, and meals for the elderly at a daily cost of less than half a dollar.
It also operates a “social shop” offering basic foodstuffs cheaply and through which local farmers can sell their produce.
The scheme could be successfully copied by other villages provided they have sufficient land, Sztolyka said.
“In villages which own a plot only the size of their cemetery this model won’t work,” he says, adding that in time he would like the village to have its own mill and bakery.
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(source: Than, Krisztina. “Hungarian Village Helps Itself out of Poverty.” Reuters. 27 Feb. 2012. Web. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/02/27/hungary-poverty-idINDEE81Q0GK20120227)