Creating a territorial development strategy
in light of the LEADER experience
[ Index ]
The territorial approach in rural areas -
lessons learned from LEADER
1.2 The territorial approach: emergence and development
The emergence of the territorial approach was fostered by changing
consumer expectations and markets, the introduction of new
communication technologies and gradual changes in institutions.
- Urbanisation provided rural players with the opportunity to
satisfy the need of city-dwellers to escape to the countryside by
supplying quality provision in terms of accommodation, leisure and
cultural activities, etc. This led to the development of multiple
forms of rural tourism.
- Consumer demand for “regional” or “local” produce also
represents an economic opportunity for less productive agricultural
areas: it encourages local producers to process quality products on
a small scale on site and to regain a level of competitiveness by
highlighting the distinctive qualities of their own products.
- New communication technologies are helping to make rural areas
seem less remote by facilitating access to information, and thereby
creating the prerequisites for setting up new businesses.
- Local, regional, national and European institutions are
becoming increasingly aware of territorial development approaches,
even though the problems of distributing powers among the various
decision-making levels are far from resolved.
These changes will no doubt intensify still further. According to a
number of sources, demand for quality products, which currently
represents around 10% of the food product market, is set to rise
substantially. In Denmark for example, it is estimated that, between
now and the year 2010, quality products in all categories will
account for nearly 30% of the agri-food market.
Combined with economic globalisation, these changes will prompt
rural areas - especially those where agriculture is no longer the
main activity - to increase their competitiveness by capitalising on
their distinctive assets in terms of natural resources, heritage,
knowledge and know-how.
Moreover, in parallel with the likely increase in competition
between areas, it is also likely that there will be greater emphasis
on networking and collaboration. This has already been heralded by
the increased cooperation between LEADER groups and the emergence of
regional, national and transnational networks.
“Paralelo 40” is a network created in 1996 by nine LEADER groups
(five Spanish and four Portuguese) operating on or close to the 40th
parallel, with the aim of jointly promoting their tourism resources.
A joint Internet site has been set up to promote their craft and
tourist products. The network included 147 business firms in 1999
and a further 667 were planning to join. This instrument should
enable these remote firms to improve their market competitiveness.
The territorial approach will doubtless become ever more complex: in
addition to economic globalisation, information is tending to become
global, completely overturning notions of space and distance. It has
led to the formation of a multitude of virtual, thematic areas, for
which some types of link with physical areas and real living
environments will need to be found.
In other words, the links between each rural area and the outside
world will be considerably enhanced. However, although there are
ever greater possibilities for accessing new markets (it is, for
example, relatively easy for rural producers to market their
products on the Internet as it can be accessed from anywhere on the
planet), the distance factor will provide less and less protection
What attitude should rural areas adopt in this context? How should
they respond to such changes, to the relocation of activities, the
emergence of networks, etc? How can rural areas cope with the ever
faster breakdown of traditional forms of organisation due to market
globalisation, and how can they offset the decline in activities
that do not form part of this dynamic? How can such areas, which are
already facing restructuring or even depopulation, rediscover their
own dynamic in a global context that itself is undergoing far-
reaching change? In short, how can they regain their competitiveness
The crux of the issue is, more than ever, to:
- “understand what is happening by gaining a deeper knowledge of
territorial approaches that offer the key to grasping contextual
changes, globalisation, networks, the new area ‘geography’, etc;
- turn the area (hitherto the result of unconscious development)
into a project to pool knowledge and languages and create a sense of
identity, enabling the men and women living in the area to discover
the reasons and advantages of their physical environment and to
actively develop their collective intelligence” (according to E.
Rullani, “Trasformazioni produttive e trasformazione delle
istituzioni”, in Sviluppo locale, vol. V, no. 8, 1998).
As the territorial approach spreads and becomes the subject of a
growing consensus, the concept takes a broader and more open form.
It no longer corresponds to the strictly endogenous development
approach that it was saddled with in the early 1990s. Relations with
the outside world are playing an increasing role, and partnership of
“variable geometry” networks and links with a multitude of virtual
areas are becoming essential elements of territorial development