EU research into sustainable rural development

June 12, 2003

Brussels, 11 Jun 2003

A European Union research project calls for more flexibility to reflect rural development needs at the community level.

Why do rural areas in apparently similar economic, social and environmental circumstances have markedly different performance over relatively long periods of time? This was the core question put forward by a team of researchers from the EU-supported project, Dynamics of Rural Areas (DORA).

The team from Scotland, Greece, Germany and Sweden concluded that community involvement is a more important factor for successful rural development than handouts aimed purely at building up infrastructure, capital or labour markets.

"[W]e held from the beginning that the key to development was more likely to lie with people and the conditions for harnessing their energies. And, in several of the more successful areas, endogenous achievements of a more intangible nature tended to be stressed more often," noted the final report 'Dynamics of rural economies: international comparison'.

DORA has far-reaching implications on policy-making and the Union's approach to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), especially in the run up to enlargement, as many regions in the new Member States are heavily reliant on agriculture. The project's findings present a convincing case for moving away from a CAP-type approach in favour of more flexibility where local people tailor rural development at the community level. According to the EU-AgriNet website, actions taken should respond to local demands and resources, rather than being imposed by centralised institutions.

Tangible differences in rural economic performance

Led by the Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research, University of Aberdeen, DORA compared the economies, geography and a number of cultural and anthropological factors of eight regional pairs of relatively 'well performing' and 'less well performing' areas. The pairs studied were chosen based on several criteria, such as GDP per head and how rural the regions are according to OECD benchmarks.

Key findings explaining the strong differences in economic performance were the relationships between human resources and investment, as well as institutions versus community. The DORA project showed that "people made the difference in the successful rural areas," the EU-AgriNet website reports. They had the confidence to take action and the resources to match.

The researchers found that historical patterns of living – cultural and societal – were important in explaining differential economic performance. "What appears to be harmful to rural development is dependency, be it on large companies or rigid state policies, transfers or initiatives," notes the website.

In the 18 months since the final project report was published, its findings have been put into practice by authorities in the study areas, helping to shape more effective rural development initiatives and policy at the local level. Later this month, the Arkleton Centre will host a conference in Scotland under the title 'Taking charge: rural community empowerment in rural development, rural health and rural education'.

Source: EU-AgriNet, Arkleton Centre


More information on this subject:

DORA website

International Rural Network conference

EU-AgriNet website

DG Research ndex_en.html

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