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The added value of LEADER

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LEADER added value:
Acting locally and globally

par Gilda Farrell


The LEADER approach to rural development
is for the most part based on proximity
and the creation of links. These two specific
dimensions of the Initiative have enabled a
large number of marginalised rural areas
to turn what until recently were considered
weaknesses and handicaps into resources and
opportunities. Going a step further by
helping take advantage of these assets at the
global level is another added value of the
LEADER Initiative. This article will examine
this, until now, little explored dimension


The proximity to citizens, to ideas and projects, and to areas has made it possible to better understand and to take a new look at the local resources of rural areas, and to imagine potential ways to take advantage of these resources.

Creating links between citizens and organisations, between sectors and areas aims to achieve a sufficient level of commitment so that new local energies can be mobilised and development can be sustained in the long term. The creation of networks or other kinds of collective approaches is usually a prerequisite for the development of what are mostly underpopulated, rather isolated rural areas where businesses are small and production sectors are poorly structured and inefficient.

Therefore, the added value that LEADER provides takes on different dimensions as the local programme is implemented. In the beginning, proximity makes it possible to take advantage of local resources and to create a social fabric where apparently it was no longer possible while at the same time promoting the revival of an area-based identity. In the next phase, what are often multidimensional networks are set up. This creates links and consolidates the proximity approach by positioning the actors and area in the global economy through the creation of relevant “critical masses”.

Thus, after the initial phase of building a local identity, of searching for elements that differentiate the area from others, and of taking advantage of what is specific to the area comes a phase that aims to regain a critical mass in or outside the area. To borrow a metaphor from genetics, the first step has in a way created a range of “molecules”, the second step has put these molecules together to form chains involving different levels of responsibility and performing complementary functions.

Therefore, proximity and the creation of links become two major reference parameters to interpret LEADER’s added value.

The added value created by proximity has been the one most analysed. It comes from the reutilisation of abandoned local resources, the organisation of local socio-economic actors, more risk-taking, and the materialisation of ideas and innovations. The value generated by the creation of local links has also been analysed. It is to be found in the multisectoral approach to development, collective projects,and local partnerships. However, the added value generated by the creation of non-local links, including virtual links, still remains to be examined.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to explore the added value that LEADER has produced through the creation of non-local links. This added value is of four kinds and comes from:

  • the adoption by rural areas of the mechanisms and instruments needed to position these areas in the globalisation and internationalisation process;

  • the permanent search for solutions to the processes of concentration and centralisation that tend to be marginalising a substantial proportion of rural areas;

  • the drafting of proposals to renew the development policies of rural areas;

  • the reconstruction of a network of solidarity suited to the new economic and social context and capable of surmounting the competitive obstacles created by globalisation.

Each of these components of this LEADER added value are only fully expressed in the long term. However, the creation of non-local links by the local action groups (LAGs) is generally a rather recent process that began locally with transnational and inter-territorial cooperation work encouraged by the Initiative. It is difficult to determine the effects today. Therefore, we will limit our analysis to the initial phases and illustrate them with a few examples of procedures tested by the LEADER groups.


LEADER helps rural areas better position themselves to face the challenges created by globalisation

Globalisation or internationalisation can be considered to generate challenges in three areas:

  • markets, where world strategies to manage economic trade have resulted in an increasingly larger number of company concentrations;

  • information and communication, where the Internet has played a major part in the growth in images and communication means;

  • standards, knowledge and references, which have become crucial elements with, among other things, the growth in regulations and quality standards.

On markets?

For a long time it was thought that to position themselves on global markets rural areas had to stop thinking “small is beautiful” and begin thinking “big is beautiful”. However, economic concentration is nothing new to the rural world. Endorsed by States, it played a determining role, for example, in the organisation of European agriculture to satisfy mass consumption.

Beginning in the 1950s, agriculture underwent a radical transformation and was accompanied by a rapid increase in yields and labour productivity and an expansion of agricultural markets. Farmers not only modernised their farms but also enlarged them. However, this economic progress had a social price. There was a drastic reduction in the number of farm workers, a massive departure from the countryside which resulted in the desertification of certain rural areas, and a concentration of agriculture in the most productive regions.

Today, though, society’s expectations are different, and rural areas are faced with new opportunities. A regional and cultural identity, know-how, protection of the environment and landscapes, and the rehabilitation of the building heritage are all seen as tools to (re)build the competitiveness of rural areas on global markets. In this respect, the strategies based on the creation of links and networks seem to be the most relevant.

On images and communication?

Information is moving at an ever faster pace, and it is making it harder for rural areas to sell themselves and their products. This is especially true in cases where they do not have strong features to differentiate themselves from other areas. Thus, to position themselves on the global market, it has become essential for rural areas to create and disseminate “communicating” images that highlight specific local features.

To assert their distinguishing features, rural areas have to learn how to “keep at home” human and financial resources, skills and businesses. And for rural areas, for a long time accustomed to outward migration as a solution to building their future, this means recognition of a specific image not only by people outside the rural areas but also and especially by the local inhabitants, institutions and organisations. The collective recognition of a specific image is an essential factor in anchoring resources and integrating rural areas in the communication flows generated by internationalisation.

On standards and standardised knowledge?

Globalisation also poses the problem of managing and differentiating knowledge. The circulation of information suggests that all knowledge is accessible, but there has to be compliance with new standards and rules. Standardisation is also not new to the rural world. In the past, States encouraged and promoted a certain standardisation of the process whereby knowledge about agriculture was transferred. The agencies responsible for providing agricultural technical support often indiscriminately taught methods tested in specialised centres without taking account of the differences between areas. This often led to a lack of control and overconsumption of certain factors of production, with harmful consequences for the environment. Furthermore, this process consisted in a transfer from the most dynamic cities or regions, thereby reinforcing the image of a countryside dependent on the city, always the last to introduce major changes.

Today, standardisation alone is no longer a vehicle of dynamism. As a result, rural areas are now facing two kinds of problems:

  • the acquisition of new knowledge through the participation in networks and other relevant mechanisms;

  • a balance between the adoption of quality standards and the preservation of the distinguishing features of products.

To rise to these challenges, rural areas have to take a pro-active approach to:

  • make better use of local know-how, including know-how that is disappearing;

  • take advantage of the sources of transfer found in other rural areas, faced with similar problems or having acquired more in-depth knowledge;

  • identify the problems which imperatively have to be solved with the help of specialised, usually non-local, research centres;

  • develop the local capacity to adopt standards while at the same time taking advantage of specific local features.
  • Positioning in terms of markets
      • Designing labels with the area’s image

        LEADER has helped create distinctive images for rural areas that have enabled them to be perceived as unique within their region, country or even Europe.

        Globalisation is forcing Europe’s rural areas to identify their distinctive features and to convey them through internal and external communication strategies. This approach often appears to be the only way to give viability to marginal areas with fragile ecosystems or to areas whose balance depends on the development of identities or the protection of historical or architectural heritage.

        LEADER has been a key element in helping each area take advantage of its differentness. More or less intuitively, the LAGs launched processes to rediscover the distinctive aspects of their area, giving importance even to “small heritage” (eg. wash houses, drying sheds, dovecotes or roadside crosses), to forgotten traditions, and to family know-how.

        «AGRO-Label» is the “territorial trade mark” that three LEADER areas of the province of Treviso (Veneto, Italy) are currently introducing to promote local products of high environmental quality. The idea arose from the observation that European consumers are increasingly inclined to buy quality products and that the producer and service provider organisations want to better respect the environment. Therefore with the introduction of AGRO-Label, a system of certification has been set up to guarantee the quality of the original environment and the quality of the product itself.

      • Using traceability to emphasise the quality of the products

        In addition to creating local images, the LEADER groups have been organising procedures to ensure that their specific features are more visible and given better consideration in the channels where the products are marketed. Several are working on traceability.

        Improving the quality of beef and lamb by making these products more traceable is the aim of the cooperation established between producers of the LEADER areas of South Kerry (Ireland) and Garfagnana (Tuscany, Italy). A quality charter and other common actions aim to improve communication with buyers (even those outside Ireland and Italy).

  • Positioning in terms of communication
      • Setting up operational information technology networks to go beyond local markets

        Bringing together several European rural areas, IT networks are currently being set up to promote and market local products, organic products, rural tourist attractions and accommodation but also to take advantage of a common heritage, for example, from the Romanesque period. While satisfying new demands from consumers, these networks are seeking a critical mass that, according to the principle of “strength through unity”, will enable them to reach a wider customer base.

        The use of advanced information and communication technologies has become a key element for rural areas in taking advantage of the new opportunities created by globalisation.

        The “ITINERA” project aims to introduce a national and international public to the typical products of several rural areas (two areas in Italy, two areas in Portugal, two areas in France and one area in Spain) and to promote these products. The producers of the areas concerned have created a “travelling showcase” for specialised fairs in various countries in Europe. The project has received technical assistance from GE.FI in Milan (Gestione Fiere di Milano) an organisation that manages the international fairs in Milan.

  • Positioning in terms of standards

      Rural businesses come under pressure to incorporate standards that are sometimes poorly adapted to their situation (ie. small-scale production and fragmented sectors and know-how). The production of certain farmhouse cheeses, for example, requires traditional know-how that was negotiated at length before being accepted by Community regulations. However, it can be difficult to achieve this objective when alone. Some areas have been successful in working together and achieving collective recognition of their traditional products.

      This is the case of the areas in Italy, Portugal and France, affiliated with CIRVAL (International Resource Centre for the Development of Information in the Small Ruminant Milk Sectors). The primary aim of this body, based in Corsica (France), is to develop teaching aids, and it supports actions to improve and promote the quality of non-industrial goat and sheep’s cheese.

      Collective actions for the adoption/adaptation of standards have also been launched by the LEADER groups. These actions are a way of achieving economies of scale in terms of costs. They are extremely important when research or training is needed to introduce standards, as is the case in the two following examples.

      • Adopting organic farming standards

        In order to reposition their local wines on international markets, two LEADER areas (in Italy and Greece) have set up “BIOBACCO”, a cooperation action to help local producers adopt specific pressing techniques for their organically grown grapes. The project also aims to create, with the support of the University of Udine (Italy), standards complementary to EC Regulation 2092/91 to protect the organic quality of the grapes during the winemaking and bottling processes and thus give consumers guarantees.

      • Introducing ISO 9000ff certifications

        Two German and three Austrian LEADER groups operating in areas with natural parks are working to develop a quality label that complies with ISO standard 9000ff on tourist regions with a protected environment. For this, workshops have been organised for representatives of government agencies, local business owners and other actors concerned. The project’s scope of action covers in particular gastronomy, accommodation, training and the promotion of environmentally-friendly means of transport.


    LEADER helps counter the trend towards concentration, one more threat for marginal areas

    Rural areas, especially the most marginal ones, are subject to negative flows of resources or suffer the harmful effects of concentration policies. The draining-off of local rural savings by urban centres, the massive departure of young people and professional skills to the cities, and the processing of local resources outside the area are all outward flows of resources that weaken rural areas and deprive them of the capacity to generate and retain added value. Furthermore, the trend towards concentration has had a disruptive effect on the encouragement of efforts, on the capacity to access markets, and on the utilisation of space.

    One of the best known trends is the concentration of tourist flows. The development of tourism in Europe has followed strongly polarised models that have encouraged the concentration of tourists in certain limited places or zones. This development model has caused serious damage to the resources and quality of life of the local communities, creating problems like congestion and deterioration. On the other hand, in areas where there has been little development of tourism, resources are scattered and services are lacking. This discourages investments that would preserve the local heritage. In the end this heritage deteriorates, like in areas where there is a lot of tourism but for totally different reasons. However, quite often tourist areas lie next to areas with little tourism. So better local planning of tourist activities could lead to more environmentally balanced and viable tourist development models. It is in this context that a very large number of LEADER groups implemented targeted marketing strategies and intervention policies. However, it is only in the long term that they will be able to see positive results, because the actions undertaken so far have usually only been a starting point.

      • Redirecting tourist flows

        The LAG of Montefeltro (Marche, Italy) is implementing a policy to intensify relations and communication inside and outside the area in a bid to strategically redistribute tourists who today flock to the city of Urbino and the coast. This complex strategy involves various factors, such as the use of the traditional “Autumn Festival” to make the area more attractive. The creation of culinary itineraries, the publication of an “Atlas of Flavours”, and the organisation of various activities also contribute to this. Other elements of the strategy include a discount card that may soon become a local “credit card”, advertisements in specialised tourist magazines, and promotional areas in supermarkets in Italy and abroad. Giant billboards in the train stations of the coastal towns and the organisation of cultural events to attract the tourists to Urbino further reinforce this effort.


    LEADER proposes a development policy renewal

    While demonstrating new possibilities of consultation between the local level and the other levels of government (regional and national) for the implementation of development policies, LEADER has served as a “test laboratory” and helped make more explicit the needs for new rural development policies. This is particularly true, given the new functions of the rural world, the importance of the local level on the political and administrative scene of European areas, the new reference frameworks for the protection of resources, and the various forms of solidarity suited to the new economic and social contexts.

  • Helping agricultural and rural policies evolve to take account of the new functions of rural areas

      Against the backdrop of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), LEADER is emerging as an answer to the need to support new socio-economic functions which are essential in maintaining a living rural world. After about twenty years during which the CAP was geared towards supporting farm prices, the first major reform was introduced in 1992. It is a radical change, since the policy is no longer aimed to support production but instead to limit production, namely by introducing quotas. Furthermore, there is better environmental protection with the introduction of a range of agri-environmental measures which today, with the implementation of Agenda 2000, become binding: the direct payments of the CAP are for the first time made conditional on the observance of certain environmental requirements laid down by the Member States.

      LEADER has played a key role in this change. The preparatory documents for the Millennium Round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations held in autumn 1999 recognise that LEADER, by promoting the participatory approach, encourages farming and non-farming activities. It does this through local and often collective initiatives aimed at diversification, the promotion of quality regional products, local processing and direct selling and/or other alternative schemes that strengthen social cohesion and support the viability of rural activities for the preservation of rural areas.

  • Asserting the local level on the political and administrative scene of European areas

      The involvement of local actors in area-based projects was a way of helping them better understand the local implications of globalisation and of the institutional reforms introduced in the various Member States of the European Union. The LEADER groups gradually became conveyors of political and institutional proposals.

      On the one hand, consultation between the local level and the other levels of intervention (regional and national) is expanding and including decisions on all development policies. The notion of “contractualisation” with the public authorities is making headway, particularly in France, Sweden and Italy. On the other hand, the LEADER areas serving as “test laboratories” are introducing new forms of local management.

      The recent law on local planning and sustainable development in France is based on local citizenship and makes local sustainable development its reference for regional policy. The aim of the law is to strengthen the geographical communities shaped by history and the economy. This law and the instrument of its application, the “pays” (non-administrative areas similar to “lands”), were more specifically defined on the basis of the experience of the regional natural parks and the LEADER experience.

  • Creating mechanisms/frameworks to protect neglected heritage resources

      The LAGs have played a key role in rehabilitating resources that have been neglected, abandoned or for which no protection exists. LEADER-created networks are currently insisting on the need to protect and find new uses for resources like chestnuts, terraces, native breeds, neglected varieties of fruit, water or traditions like transhumance, and old pilgrimage routes. These networks have revealed unexpected possibilities of development.

      • Restoring chestnut groves

        Ten LEADER groups in Italy, France and Spain are working to bring back chestnuts, one of the most characteristic agricultural productions of certain Mediterranean areas that is on the decline and in some cases has more or less been abandoned. But the fact that Europeans are today sensitive to the idea of protecting their environmental heritage and that rural areas need to show that they have something different to offer has created the conditions to revive chestnut groves. Therefore, the LEADER groups concerned are working to develop the technical know-how to improve the varieties and to fight against diseases. They are also currently setting up a “European Chestnut Road”, organising travelling exhibitions, and putting together various culinary events.

  • Implementing forms of solidarity suited to the new economic and social contexts and overcoming the competitive barriers created by globalisation

      LEADER has made it possible to gradually introduce the notion of complementary knowledge and resources to encourage added value by enabling areas to cooperate in the search for common solutions. Certain original ways of transferring knowledge, or economies of scale obtained through complementarity and solidarity were both facilitated by LEADER to face the challenges of globalisation.

      • Finding “winner-winner” solutions in the transfer of experiences

        Making areas aware of the use of bio-architecture and renewable energies by taking advantage of the experience acquired in Sweden with the building of the “TINGVALL Eco-Centre” and other environmentally friendly buildings is the focus of a cooperation project between an area in Tuscany (Italy) and Hensbacke-Munkendal in Sweden. The Italian partners are working on the aesthetic look of the buildings and testing new materials. The purpose of this collaboration is also to show the public authorities responsible for architecture, and town and country planning what is possible.

      • Revealing the “secrets” of the approach

        Because of their commitment to the local level and their exchanges with the networks, the LEADER groups have opened their doors to visits and exchanges. They want those from other European areas, and other continents in some cases, to understand the importance of a development approach based on proximity, participation and the creation of links.

        Thanks to the contribution of six Portuguese LAGs and one French LAG, Polish local development workers from rural municipalities in the region of Rzeszów (southeast Poland) were able to participate in a training programme consisting of six months of practical training in LEADER areas.



    Globalisation is forcing rural areas to open up to all kinds of dimensions, and it is not always easy to reconcile this “multidimensional situation” with the need to make proximity an asset that keeps rural people from moving, strengthens local activities and provides basic services. In this context, the creation of links can precisely lead to solutions of “variable geometry” that combine the local and global realities.

    Promoting a multifaceted image of Europe’s rural world where differences exist is in the end the great added value of LEADER in the context of globalisation. However, this image has to be constantly modified to take maximum advantage of the opportunities offered by globalisation and to prevent it from generating new forms of marginalisation of rural areas. Because these areas are increasingly confronted with the challenges of globalisation, local actions and networking should remain for a long time the best ways to take on these challenges.


          Assistant director of the LEADER European Observatory between September 1995 and March 2000, Gilda Farrell is today head of the new “Social Cohesion” unit of the Council of Europe. She has devoted her professional life to the implementation and support of development projects in a number of countries throughout the world.


    source: LEADER Magazine nr.23 - Summer 2000

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