[ Summary ]
Implementing a strategy to boost economic competitiveness
3.4 Examples of LEADER group strategies
In an endogenous development model such as LEADER’s, the chosen
strategies are adapted on a case-by-case basis. This makes for a
wide range of measures, the results of which are all the more
difficult to gauge since they apply to rural areas each differing
markedly from one another.
We therefore confine ourselves to presenting a few examples of
possible strategies for each of the nine types of area identified at
the start of this part of the series, bearing in mind that within
each individual area of intervention it is common to find a
combination of different situations.
3.4.1 Examples of strategies for Type 1 areas
(areas where agriculture employs a sizeable
proportion of the working population and still forms the basis of
In such areas, which are generally characterised by single-crop
farming and highly seasonal labour, as in numerous Mediterranean
areas, LEADER’s experience has highlighted how difficult it is to
organise measures that balance the use of human resources, create
synergies with other sectors upstream and downstream of the same
sector and also keep young people in the area.
In this type of area, the demands of market competitiveness often
lead to two types of imbalance: massive production wastage in the
single-crop farming sector (rejection of non-standard or undersized
products, etc.); over-utilisation of seasonal labour in harvesting,
selection and processing; conversely, under-utilisation of other
occupational skills and profiles, which then become scarcer in the
area. Such imbalances can be corrected by diversifying by-products
of the lead product or by setting up other sectors to complement the
a) Diversification strategies based around the lead product
Below is an example of a strategy to boost the ability to generate
value added in an area based on the lead product.
In the Valle del Jerte region (Extremadura, Spain), which is known
throughout Spain for its cherries, the production of aguardiente, to
make use of substandard cherries or cherries which are difficult to
sell on the fresh fruit market when there are widespread surpluses,
required considerable research and development efforts over a number
of years. Under LEADER I, the promotion and marketing of aguardiente
had been significantly developed. The LEADER group went on to launch
training courses for entrepreneurs from other agribusiness and
tourism sectors. Since then, the image of the valley’s flowering
cherry trees is used to promote not only aguardiente, but also the
area as a whole.
b) Diversification strategies based on creating complementary activities
This involves creating new economic and cultural nuclei in the area.
In the Sierra de Francia area (Castilla-Leon, Spain), where the
chief product is “Pata Negra”, one of the most sought-after raw-
cured hams, the LAG implemented a strategy to structure other
smaller local sectors and to expand the area’s offering, based on
the reintroduction of traditional production methods and the
population’s hospitality. This led to the creation of “ARTESA”, a
cooperatively run community training centre designed to preserve and
develop traditional skills, and provide tourist information.
3.4.2 Examples of strategies for Type 2 areas
(areas with rich, not very labour-intensive agriculture)
In such areas, where agriculture has generally reached very high
levels of productivity, in the short term, increasing economic
competitiveness inevitably means repositioning products on less
anonymous markets and meeting new consumer requirements. In the
longer term, such areas may face problems of social and/or
environmental competitiveness, as illustrated below.
a) Strategies for repositioning products in niche markets
The two objectives of a cooperation project between the Pays de
Gâtine (Poitou-Charentes, France) and Torridge (England, United
Kingdom) LEADER areas are to set up the electronic identification of
cattle and to develop new agricultural technologies in small-scale
dairy cooperatives positioned in niche markets. By means of a joint
marketing strategy, they also cooperate to improve the market
positioning of their products.
b) Strategies to improve product traceability
Improving the quality of beef and lamb by enhancing product
traceability is the objective of a cooperation project between
producers from the South Kerry (Ireland) and Garfagnana (Tuscany,
Italy) LEADER areas. A quality charter and other joint measures have
been set up to improve communication with buyers (some of whom are
not located in Ireland or Italy).
3.4.3 Examples of strategies for Type 3 areas
(areas where traditional large-scale landholdings still predominate)
Such areas face a problem of social competitiveness rather than
economic competitiveness: lack of initiative and very few
enterprises. This stems from the social and cultural background of
such areas: a working population comprised chiefly of former farm
labourers with no financial resources and no entrepreneurial
tradition, together with absentee landowners. Part 2 of this series,
dealing with social competitiveness, suggests a few possible
strategies for this type of area. One of its findings is that
acquiring social competitiveness, as a prerequisite for regaining
true economic competitiveness, is a long-term process.
The key issue is therefore to decide what to do in the short term in
order to ensure basic economic revival. The LEADER groups operating
in such areas must focus their activities on certain very specific
areas and social groups. This might include involving a few
landowners who are relatively amenable to local investment and
innovation in other sectors such as tourism. One advantage upon
which LEADER groups have generally been able to rely is a well-
preserved and highly distinctive architectural and cultural
The Terras Dentro group (Alentejo, Portugal) based its LEADER I
intervention on promoting the area’s identity and local culture
around the image of the “Terras do Cante” (Land of Song). This made
it possible to harness support from a number of project promoters
for investment in up-market tourism. However, since the LAG was also
aware of the limitations of this strategy, which primarily benefited
just a few of the wealthiest, it followed this up with measures to
recreate long-term social competitiveness (awareness and vocational
training for the unemployed, a communication strategy based on
extensive house-to-house deliveries of a newspaper, etc.).
3.4.4 Examples of strategies for Type 4 areas
(areas where natural or protected habitat plays a key role)
Clearly, in this type of area the acquisition of environmental
competitiveness is an essential prerequisite to economic
competitiveness. In fact it is environmental competitiveness that
will enable such areas to exploit the full potential of their local
resources and to build their economy .
In cases like this, economic competitiveness is feasible only when
environmental competitiveness is relatively well established, i.e.
once the conditions have been created for preserving and fully
developing the area’s natural resources, habitat and physical
heritage (and when such values are wholeheartedly shared by the
local players). After this, the situation will depend on the
economic context and will tie in with one or other of the types of
area defined in this booklet, i.e. type 5, 6, 7 or 8 below.
3.4.5 Examples of strategies for Type 5 areas
(areas geared towards tourist accommodation, with small-scale facilities)
In general the economic competitiveness of such areas is well
established. However, competition from new tourist destinations is
forcing them to assert their distinctiveness more forcefully and to
target their offering at specific market niches, such as family
tourism or specialist tourism.
In the Upper Tauern National Park (Austria), a number of tourist
operators have specialised in family tourism, partly supported by
the LEADER group. In order to do so, special facilities were set up
to cater for children of all ages, as well as parents. They
diversified family activities, both outdoors (woodland play areas,
swimming pools, animals, walks and pony trekking, collecting
minerals, etc.) and indoors (individual play and group games,
cooking, etc.). Each element of the architecture and infrastructure
has been specifically designed to appeal to children and their
families, and staff have been specially trained to serve this type
3.4.6 Examples of strategies for Type 6 areas
(areas dominated by second homes and/or residential homes)
Such areas tend to be fairly near towns (easy access), although they
are not peri-urban areas. They have no marked economic vocation and
remain fundamentally rural in character.
LEADER groups have developed two types of strategy for such areas:
strategies for capitalising on the existence of second homes as an
economic development asset, and strategies to diversify the economy
by redeveloping certain distinctive local features.
a) Economic development strategies based around second homes
In the Marsica LEADER area, situated in Italy’s Abruzzi region, one
hour’s drive from Rome, the LAG has developed a strategy to extend
the amount of time second home owners stay in the area. In order to
do so, a project entitled “Micro-receptivity” was launched. Its
objective was twofold: to develop Marsica as a place for the urban
population to recharge their batteries, and to develop a catalogue
of houses for rent. They pursue both objectives by the same means: a
quarterly magazine distributed to 12,000 households on the basis of
a mailing list supplied by the local water board. The aim is to
forge a close relationship with second home owners, the idea being
to treat them as proper permanent inhabitants of Marsica. Each
second home owner is offered the opportunity to participate in the
Micro-receptivity project by renting out their own home. The
magazine also serves as a medium for promoting the area, its
services and products.
A fidelity card (“Marsicard”) is distributed along with the magazine
which provides a whole series of discounts and exclusive access to
certain services. The idea is to provide weekend services which
consumers either do not have the time to use during the week or do
not have in town. These range from sport, cultural and vocational
training (foreign language courses), to gastronomy (regional menus)
and include cultural programmes (concerts, theatre) and health
services (spa, dental care, alternative medicine). The proximity of
urban centres makes it possible to guarantee a very high standard.
An estate agent’s has also been set up to facilitate the search for
and purchase of such homes.
b) Strategies for promoting local distinctive features and for diversification
Once again in Marsica, the aim of the “Roots” project, as its name
would suggest, is to “root” young people in an area where their
income and well-being come mainly from the jobs they hold in nearby
towns. The key players in the project have been schools and school
children. The project has led to the creation of a consultation
forum between schools and businesses. Pupils have explored former
local products (agri-foodstuffs, hairpins and ceremonial costumes)
and devised new uses for such products in collaboration with local
processing firms and tourist operators.
3.4.7 Examples of strategies for Type 7 areas
(areas whose economy is dominated by small businesses)
Situations vary widely in this type of area. For example, areas
where the businesses all make the same
finished product without seeking any production complementarity
suffer from fierce competition, problems in accessing certain
services and, worst of all, unstructured promotion and marketing.
In such areas, LEADER’s purpose is to create links or even networks
between business firms (especially for promotion and marketing), for
example to create a new collective offering or to create joint
a) Creating a collective offering
With increasing frequency, markets impose economies of scale that
are no longer feasible for small individual businesses. They also
demand a strong brand image that can be invoked when marketing
In order to cope with these constraints, in addition to creating
marketing groups, LEADER groups have supported measures to create
new types of “thematic coherence”, based around a local image,
symbol or other asset. This has led to the creation of “unifying
themes”, “evocative themes”, “thematic routes” and other “routes of
discovery” to group economic, cultural, leisure and other activities
under a common or cross-sectorial image. Backing for the project
from local producers and operators then results in a new collective
“Thematic routes” and their like are used to bring producers in the
same sector together to put together a tourist offering that enables
visitors from outside the area to appreciate the environment in
which the product is made. LEADER groups have therefore launched
operations to harness support from producers, first of all to help
surmount a number of difficulties inherent in such an approach:
reaching a consensus between producers on how to operate the route
(business opening times, guided tours, availability for organising
tasting sessions, organisation of hosting and leisure services),
organisation and promotion costs, etc.
It took at least four years for the “Cheese route” in the
Bregenzerwald LEADER area (Austria) to finally emerge. In the case
of the “Ekoroute” in Drenthe (Netherlands), it took many months of
negotiation to agree on the exact path the route should take because
it could not integrate all of the area’s organic producers.
In other areas, this same type of approach was adopted to create an
“imaginative environment” conducive to the creation of new
complementary activities. This has included reclaiming historic
monuments or traditions and turning them into “catalysts” for
achieving an economic dynamic by creating an evocative theme.
This was the case, for example, with the exclusive handmade souvenir
trade in the Pays Cathare LEADER area (Languedoc-Roussillon,
France), producing articles “reminiscent” of a religious past, a
mystery or a tradition of resistance. In this instance, the
“evocative theme” was designed to arouse interest in an area
suffering from depopulation by making it attractive once again.
b) Creation of commercial distribution and promotion structures
In other cases, LEADER has supported the creation of commercial
distribution and promotion structures to meet the needs of small-
scale local producers.
“Bia Na Ri” (Food of Kings) started life as a cooperative to market
food specialities from the Shannon region (Ireland). Today, with
LEADER support, it has become an independent company supplying
luxury farmhouse cheeses. The company groups together the offerings
of various cheese producers from two neighbouring regions and,
because of its extensive range and sufficient volumes, it is able to
supply a clientele of hotelkeepers, restaurateurs and shops
throughout much of Ireland. Since it deals directly with this
market, the company is able to provide consumer feedback to
producers in the way of opinions, suggestions, reactions, etc.
c) Strategies to foster complementarity between small and large
Where small and medium-sized enterprises coexist in a single sector,
it can be useful to support operational complementarities and
collaboration between them. This may mean pooling quality control
criteria or fostering a climate conducive to risk-taking by young
entrepreneurs. LEADER has participated in various projects of this
One association in the Navarra region (Spain) brings together 23
producers of traditional and industrial foodstuffs from a variety of
different sectors, including: cheeses (Roncal and Idiazabal),
“cuajada” (junket) and “natillas” (milk custard), meat (“chorizo” -
a highly-seasoned pork sausage - and other delicatessen meats),
regional liqueurs (“Pacharan”), cider, preserved vegetables, stewed
fruits, chocolate and traditional cakes and pastries. The
association seeks to improve its presence in short marketing
channels and international fairs by offering a range of local
products. Through its joint efforts it has succeeded in introducing
rigorous quality control methods.
In various cases, cost-sharing strategies (quality control,
promotion and marketing services) have led to interesting
developments in the transfer and emulation relationship between
small and large enterprises.
3.4.8 Examples of strategies for Type 8 areas
Peri-urban areas are “outward-looking”, in that although
considerable human skills and resources may be concentrated there,
they are directed towards the nearby town, without the local area
being able to properly benefit. What is more, such areas, which are
often subject to uncontrolled land and housing pressure, have lost
their distinctiveness in terms of the physical heritage and no
longer have their own identity. This is quite apart from the serious
environmental problems that may arise. Offsetting this is the fact
that the proximity of the town provides the area with market
opportunities (it is easy to sell local products and to cater for
day-trippers from neighbouring areas, etc).
a) Strategies for integrating economic, social and environmental
Refocusing the inhabitants’ interest on their local area and
redeveloping a lost identity based on the opportunities provided by
nearby markets represent the main challenges for such areas. Not
only does this require economic competitiveness, but also, and
perhaps more crucially, social and/or environmental competitiveness.
Examples of strategies for such areas can be found in the part of
this series dealing with social competitiveness.
The few strategies implemented in this type of area tend to
demonstrate that in areas like this, even more than elsewhere, it is
vital to integrate the social, economic and environmental approaches
to local development.
In the Ile Crémieux region, not far from Lyon, France’s second-
largest city, a local development process has been set up on the
basis of a broad partnership to harnesses the support of local
players for developing an archaeological site. This has culminated
in the creation of a museum and heritage centre, the “Maison du
Patrimoine”, providing environmental education courses to people of
all ages from the nearby city. Apart from providing local cultural
tourism, the heritage centre serves as a base for heritage
renovation and management in nearby areas.
3.4.9 Examples of strategies for Type 9 areas
(areas with serious structural difficulties)
It is in this type of area that LEADER has amassed the greatest
experience. The many difficulties facing such areas (natural
handicaps, population problems, unattractiveness, reliance on
subsidies, etc.) have led the LAGs to devise all sorts of economic
Once again we stress that the situation in such areas does not allow
a return to economic competitiveness in the short term. In cases
like this, strategies must form part of a long-term approach.
Essentially they are pioneering, experimental measures, leading to
partial and as yet inadequate results.
For this reason the cases presented below should be considered as
possible approaches and examples of “partial” strategies, based on
which many different combinations can be devised. In marginal areas
with a low population density, problems of market access, for
example, mainly relate to exploiting local markets.
a) Strategies for adapting to weak and dispersed local demand
Demographic decline and scattered housing and businesses have
deprived some areas of their ability to retain certain services.
However, flexible solutions are possible.
This type of strategy sometimes calls for prolonged negotiations
with public institutions (especially where public enterprises are
involved), or for organisational adjustments (an enterprise combines
several services or provides “mobile” services to several villages),
or even for the collective ownership of businesses.
LEADER has backed the creation of collective service companies
(often owned by the villagers themselves) in cases where, for
example, firms were about to go out of business.
In order to keep young local entrepreneurs in the area, LEADER has
backed the creation of businesses whose management is later
entrusted to these young entrepreneurs in a variety of forms.
In the case of public enterprises, LEADER has backed operations to
lower the product viability threshold by introducing new
technologies, grouping services together at multi-service centres
and altering the way in which services are provided (e.g. mobile
units), all the while involving the direct owners of the services.
In the Haut-Allier region (Auvergne, France) LEADER has supported
the creation of a company providing the services of farmers (“43
Services”). The company was set up on the basis of contracts
concluded with public enterprises and today it provides a variety of
services, ranging from maintaining telephone kiosks to restoring
small-scale artefacts or to manufacturing urban furniture.
b) Strategies to lessen the constraint of competition from towns
In certain areas, the approach is to forge closer links with urban
consumers, in particular by creating short distribution channels for
marketing local products.
Consumers assess products from rural areas on the basis of
quality/distance criteria and so these products come into
competition with urban products. For areas whose lead product
suffers strong competition, with a constant threat of price erosion,
the problem is one of achieving product differentiation. It is at
this point that quality procedures are implemented.
c) Strategies for labelling and quality charters
The creation of quality labels for differentiation, whether quality
guarantees, labels of geographic origin or simply an evocation of
certain characteristics of the area, is another approach supported
by LEADER, especially where products come under fierce competition.
Such processes, which are fairly widespread throughout Europe, have
harnessed the support of producers in LEADER areas. In many
instances they have also been backed by ad hoc training courses,
field visits, exchanges with producers from other LEADER areas, etc.
In the municipality of Ydre (Sommenbygden LEADER area in south-east
Sweden), in order to counter the drop in farm prices, four livestock
producers got together to market organically produced meat under a
single label. A contract with a chain of small shops (“Hemkop”) led
them to step up task sharing in order to provide a year-round supply
of organic meat. The livestock producers also created a joint
Internet site in order to disseminate information about their
products, to develop contacts with other customers and to answer
d) Strategies for launching new activities based on previously
In certain areas, LEADER has supported the launch of new products
based on hitherto untapped or neglected human, natural, know-how and
other resources. In such cases, the keys to success have been
external support and training.
In the Ross & Cromarty LEADER area (Scotland, United Kingdom), an
informal association of 15 mushroom-growers was set up following a
training course organised as part of the “Highlands Birchwood”
project. The project was aimed at promoting the development of a
Scottish variety of birch tree, whose cultivation had been neglected
in recent decades. However, it is a tree whose trunk is well suited
to growing speciality mushrooms. The association buys raw materials
and equipment at much more advantageous prices. In this context, two
mothers wishing to return to the labour market have launched the
company “Highlands Wildwoods” to cultivate and market these birch
e) Collective revival of local structures or services to prevent
In most cases, marginal areas do not provide the right conditions
for ensuring competitive production costs. In farming, this applies
to all marginal areas that have no fertile agricultural land and/or
where mechanisation is either impossible or difficult (mountain
regions, etc). In other sectors, it applies to areas without
sufficient infrastructure or services. One LEADER strategy has
therefore been to support the introduction of services or to create
the conditions for providing services that fill in the gaps.
On the Gulholmen and Karingon islands (Sweden), to cope with reduced
services and deteriorating infrastructure due to the decline in the
fishery business, local associations decided to club together to
ensure the maintenance of services for both the community and
businesses in order to halt the deterioration in infrastructure.
They reached the conclusion that it was vital to renovate houses and
restore transport and other support services in order to prevent
young people from moving out of the area. A global action plan was
drawn up and a “community-owned” company was created to coordinate
the organisation of all the services and activities to be developed.
f) Strategies to combat depopulation
In certain marginalised areas, the aim is to attract new
Since 1984, three villages have mobilised their efforts to implement
a re-population strategy in the Jämtland region (Sweden) to counter
the population deficit (fewer than three inhabitants/km2), which has
led to the closure of services, particularly primary schools. The
inhabitants themselves built three single-family dwellings,
providing homes for three young families and thereby saving the
primary school. Additional families moved into the area when the
construction of an old people’s home released further houses. The
restoration of several core services (grocery shop, nursery,
community hall, leisure facilities, etc.) will consolidate a process
that has even led to the creation of a teleworking company employing
a number of villagers. A village cooperative created in 1987
coordinates this long-term approach, which relies on volunteers and
the technical and financial support of the local council. Fifteen
years of hard work have not simply stemmed the demographic decline,
but reversed it. The combined population of the three villages in
question rose from 126 in 1986 to 160 in 1990, creating 20 new
service jobs into the bargain.
 See “Constructing a territorial
development strategy in the light of the LEADER
Part 3: environmental competitiveness”,
LEADER European Observatory, 2000.