The effects of investment are transformational. What was barren land is now a vibrant array of fruit and vegetable cultivation, providing jobs for local people spin-off industries in the food processing sector.
Investment transforms our economy. It leads to the creation of jobs, growth and new opportunities for our society. No more so than in rural areas. Investment can unlock the potential of rural areas across Europe to become more productive, more sustainable and more vibrant. Yesterday, I visited the Alqueva region in Portugal, to see the positive impact of a €2.5bn investment to irrigate 120,000 hectares of farmland. The EU has contributed €1.4bn to this total figure - it represents a great partnership between the EU and Portugal for quality of life and jobs in this rural area. The effects of this investment are transformational. What was barren land is now a vibrant array of fruit and vegetable cultivation, providing jobs for local people spin-off industries in the food processing sector. It takes advantage of the 3,000 hours of sunshine which the sun kissed Alentejo region receives annually. It also provides a source of clean energy for the population of the region. Most importantly, it is Europe's largest strategic water reserve, in area faced with period droughts and water shortages. I saw with my own eyes the benefits of irrigation from the sky, with the rolling plains of Alentejo resplendent in green.
I was honoured to switch on the new linkage between the Roxo reservoir and a new irrigation system, providing water to 8,000 hectares of newly irrigated farmland, alongside Portuguese Minister for Agriculture Luis Capoulas Santos.
At the formal "switch on", I offered my congratulations to the local community for bringing diversification in agriculture rather than desertification. This project will bring new jobs and vibrancy to this rural community.
The Portuguese authorities also informed me of their decision to apply to the European Fund for Strategic Investments, also known as the Juncker Fund, for a new project to irrigate a further 44,000Ha of land in the region. This process is assessed independently based on objective criteria. The last word is not with me, but it seems to tick all the boxes for Juncker Fund as it covers jobs, growth and investment in water and energy.
Earlier yesterday, I visited the National Fair of Agriculture in Santarém, on the banks of the River Tagus 60km east of Lisbon, in Portugal's agricultural heartland. It was a great opportunity to engage with the Portuguese farming community, hear their concerns and also join them in sampling some of their high quality produce. Many thanks to Minister Capoulas Santos and all the Portuguese stakeholders for such a warm welcome. I sampled some tasty Portuguese pork and was glad to hear that pigmeat prices are recovering strongly - up 20% in the past four weeks. This is in part due to a strong export performance, particularly to China, and also the sunny weather across Northern Europe as the barbeque season takes hold. I welcomed this at a speech to a conference entitled "Great Challenges of Innovation in Agriculture," by stating that my main priority is to work on behalf of the farmer - finding new markets, simplifying the CAP and helping get a fair return for their hard work.