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Unifying theme(s),
integrated territorial development

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Water at the heart of a diversified,
innovative and sustainable development

[Eric Febvre, LEADER Pays du Val d'Adour
(Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées, France)]


Contained within four French departments lying in the two regions of Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées, the LEADER area of Pays du Val d'Adour has a population of 61 000 and comprises 196 municipalities scattered across 12 cantons.

This land of the Adour river abounds with streams and lakes, a source of great natural wealth. The water is used for irrigation in agriculture and for centuries has served to power mills. The river’s pebbles and gravel have been traditional building materials for roads and farms and the water environment is home to an exceptional wildlife. The lakes and groundwater are natural storage sites for this life-giving resource.

There is so much water in Val d’Adour that it is part of the everyday life of people in the villages and countryside. The fact that it is a permanent feature of the economy and culture always has to be taken into account in the systems of organisation set up by the men and women of the valley. It is of the utmost importance and a source of conflict in time of crisis.

Water naturally appeared as a theme and focal point of the LEADER II programme when it came time to muster the local energies for an interdependent development programme. The overall objective was to collectively improve the relationship with water of the various segments of the population in the valley to improve the common management of this universal resource for sustainable development.

For this, the LEADER II programme mobilised over 7 million euros, of which 42% came from the European Union, 47% were national matching funds and 11% came from private sources.

One of the main actions was to organise a large-scale campaign to make the young generations aware of the need to protect water in their area. Schools, outdoor recreational centres and youth and sports associations worked together using play, artistic and cognitive activities as teaching aids.

After a survey of the area’s assets, some of the traditional heritage built by man around water such as the grain mills, fountains and their small distribution channels were renovated by local craftsmen who remained faithful to the architectural styles of the past. These rehabilitation sites were all visited by the children for their graphic and manual school work.

The agricultural world also played a major part in the programme. A primary goal was to encourage every possible way of limiting the spread of polluting chemicals. Better awareness of the future social role of the farmer was thus begun through contractual operations to protect fragile areas.

At strategic points in the valleys, the banks of certain streams and rivers abandoned in the past few years are today the main focus of a coherent restoration programme using soft technologies.

The development lever activated by LEADER is having a significant impact on employment. The awareness actions have created jobs for coordinators, and the wetland restoration projects have provided work for a large number of disadvantaged people, establishing “green brigades” to maintain the water environments. Also, craftsmen working in the building trade have directly benefited from the restoration of traditional buildings and the revived use of the Adour pebble as a primary building material.

Within the context of these actions, LEADER also heavily supported programmes to train and improve the skills of the human resources responsible for implementing the actions. This was complementary to the various mechanisms set up.

But the most positive aspect, clearly reflected in the accounts given by the locals, was LEADER’s ability to reach the people of Adour and inform them about the European Union and its capacity to mobilise communities.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.24 - Autumn 2000

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