is being devoted to the essential - and multifaceted - role that farmers play in the development of the countryside, but also to the profound transformations that European agriculture is undergoing and the prospects facing rural areas today because of this.
Some of these transformations are dictated by the new expectations of consumers with regard to the quality and diversity of agri-food products. The development of demand for products of specific quality offer rural businesses and areas new opportunities. The latest seminar organised by the LEADER European Observatory was an opportunity to discuss this theme in the light of the specific mission that the local action groups have.
Convening in the small town of Kinsale (West Cork LEADER area, Ireland) from 11 to 15 June 1997, some 50 local groups from six Member States worked on the theme of the collective marketing of quality agri-food products in long distribution channels.
The aim was to illustrate various methodological approaches followed by small rural agri-food enterprises to sell their production outside of their town or region.
Agri-food products of specific quality can open up interesting prospects for farmers and rural processors. However, for reasons of insufficient production scale, product range, marketing expertise or because of difficult access to information, inter alia, many consider these new markets to be too difficult to tap into if not out of reach.
The six case studies analysed at this seminar painted a picture of the diversity of the initiatives taken by various rural actors in Ireland, Spain, France and Italy. They highlighted certain elements essential for the success of this type of action: creation of appropriate processing structures, quality of product, grouping of producers, sufficient volumes and ranges, steady supplies, high level of professionalism, efficient marketing organisation, etc.
The seminar also made it possible to define the missions of the LEADER groups: the closest to the population, they facilitate identification of the area's potential, can play a fundamental role in encouraging initiatives, in ensuring the training and networking of the producers concerned, in overseeing their project throughout its various phases.
Their role also consists in working with their various partners and specialised organisations to mobilise the specific expertise necessary for success, like for example research and development, the attention given to the design and packaging of products, the implementation of targeted marketing actions, etc.
It is in these conditions in particular that rural areas will be able to benefit from new activities that are competitive and vehicles of value added, i.e. jobs. It is in these conditions that they will be able to take advantage of their know-how and a range of resources too often not utilised, and offer consumers an increasingly diversified line of local products of Europe.
source: LEADER Magazine nr.15 - Summer 1997