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Challenges for rural areas

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key word: methodology and development
source: LEADER Magazine n°12
date of publication: 10/96

"A key word: quality"

Juan Garcia Baena (LEADER Sierra Sur de Sevilla, Spain)

When we began in 1990, we were faced with two handicaps: an unskilled labour force and a certain self-satisfaction on the part of entrepreneurs who had little awareness of their limits and their lack of qualification. We were, however, able to count on a diversity of markets: a well-established sector specialised in the production of the traditional cake, "mantecado", sold throughout Spain, but whose market was saturated because of stiff competition between local businesses (the same product on the same market); an emerging sector, polyester for car bodies, with a good potential for development but still relatively marginal in the phase preceding LEADER I; finally, an agri-food sector (tinneries, oil and organic farming) having different interests and markets. Intervention therefore had to be on several fronts at the same time.

In the case of mantecado, new markets had to be found, production had to be diversified, and quality, the best guarantee in face of competition, had to be developed. Distribution channels also had to be rebuilt, given the weak negotiating power of producers with the major purchasing groups. In the polyester sector, intervention consisted in consolidating and expanding the market. The emphasis was on three aspects: improvement of processes, approval of products and the introduction of a quality charter. As for agri-food, the bottled quantities and market share of olive oil had to be increased. Tinneries (asparagus) improved the quality of their products to shore up their position with outside competition. As for organic producers, they experimented with new distribution channels.

It can now be said that:

  • the local action group has succeeded in establishing and maintaining direct and permanent contact with companies. The composition of its board of directors reveals a strong representation of business leaders;
  • through its activities, the LAG has gradually been able to analyze in detail the strengths and weaknesses of the different economic sectors of the area;
  • by encouraging collaboration between producers, LEADER has helped modernise and diversify enterprises, a decisive first step in tackling an increasingly competitive market;
  • in face of traditional channels, organic producers have opted for direct selling, abandoning laborious negotiations with supermarkets.

In short, the work accomplished has borne its fruit: businesses have now especially become aware that access to new markets means first defending existing markets and abiding by a key word: quality. The greatest challenge nonetheless remains to be met: turning unemployed people (whose number is too high) into entrepreneurs...

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