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Support systems for new activities in rural areas

Part 1 - The support system
How does the local area affect
the support system?

How to use this guide & Table of Contents


The area's characteristics will
considerably influence the choice of
support system.


The following factors are particularly decisive:


1) Geographical size

In the context of LEADER, this varies from around 100 km2 in certain islands to over 7 000 km2 in some northern Objective 6 LEADER areas (e.g. 38 800 km2 for the Inlandslaget area in Sweden).


2) Demography

  • Population

    Some LEADER areas have a population as small as 5 000 (e.g. 5 481 inhabitants for the Maestrazgo in Spain), whereas the most populated areas reach almost 100 000 inhabitants (95 715 inhabitants for the Livradois-Forez in France).

    This is far smaller than the minimum of 300 000 people required for agencies such as Business and Innovation Centres (their average catchment area has around one million people).

    It is vital to be clear at the outset that the fairly small populations of LEADER areas place a severe limit on the services that they can afford on their own.

  • Population density

    This ranges from under 4 people per km2 in some LEADER areas (0.7 people per km2 in Inlandslaget) to over 150 in others (e.g. some areas in Northern Portugal).

  • Demographic structure

    In some Irish LEADER areas, the population of under 25s exceeds 54% (in Wicklow it even reaches 60%). This figure is lower than 25% in many areas in Central France (15% in the Haut-Allier area, Auvergne) and Central Spain (11% in the Molina de Aragon-Alto Tajo area in Castile-La Mancha). There is certainly an important correlation between the number of young people in an area and its attitude to risk.

    The area's size and population will have a fundamental effect on determining both the number of support staff and the need to have outreach workers or offices, with or without the collaboration of other agencies.

    It is just as necessary to find innovatory solutions for designing support systems in low-density rural areas. However, it is worth noting that:

    • for animators who accompany a project during its start-up, what is important is the close and monitored relationship with the project promoters and the relationship and coordination with the various partners and organisations who are going to intervene in the various stages of the project (specialists, training centres, financial organisations, relevant authorities, research centres, if necessary);

    • technical support which is more specific to the later stages no longer requires such regular contact. It can be provided from further away, with less personal involvement.


3) Unemployment and social exclusion

Unemployment in LEADER areas can vary from less than 5% (e.g. Clervaux- Vianden in Luxembourg) to more than 30% in some Spanish areas. The extent of unemployment, combined with other forms of social exclusion of certain groups of the local population, very often has a considerable effect on the definition of the main targets of the support system.


4) Dependence on agriculture

This varies from under 3% of the working population in some German LEADER groups to more than 70% in some Greek areas. The level of dependence on agriculture considerably influences the type of activity likely to be developed, the people affected and the methods of aftercare necessary.


5) The degree of specialisation

Some areas have a very diversified economy (the case of many LEADER areas in Northern Italy), whereas others are specialised in one or more key industrial sectors. Areas also differ in their industrial strategy: some emphasise building on core strengths whereas others are more concerned with diversifying out of declining sectors.


6) proximity to large urban centres

Some LEADER areas can almost be considered as commuter suburbs of large conurbations and in certain cases are therefore able to benefit from the services available in towns (a partnership has been formed in this way between the Montana de Navarra LEADER group and the BIC in Pamplona). Others may be situated several hours by road from the nearest service centre, which obliges them to be more independent.


7) Average earnings per inhabitant

This can vary from under half the European average (certain LEADER areas in Greece, Spain and Portugal) to 20% more (certain areas in Northern Europe). It is worth noting that the last two factors affect the supply of rather than the demand for support services: wealthier areas with large service centres are obviously likely to be fairly well covered by other public agencies or the private sector.


8) The levels of qualification of the local population

Levels of qualification can vary considerably from one area to another. The traditional gap existing in this field between rural areas and urban areas has tended to have decreased considerably everywhere, but depending on the infrastructures and teaching efforts made in each country, significant differences still remain between the various regions of Europe.

Because of unemployment in the cities, and also because of the more attractive image of rural areas, many people are now interested in staying in the countryside or going back there as soon as possible. Similarly, many rural areas are managing to attract skilled people with significant experience. The return of these people can open up new opportunities for the area, because many"repatriated" people are responsible for setting up independent businesses.


9) The local population's dynamism and attitude to risk

Paradoxically, this is sometimes inversely proportional to the level of development or income: some communities which have become used to a relatively high standard of living from one or two staple industries, for example, have enormous difficulties in responding to change or taking initiatives. On the other hand, relatively poor areas, with a tradition of "making ends meet" by all kinds of activities, may prove to have enormous resources of energy and inventiveness.

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