Rural development and LEADER approach

Enhancing rural development and encouraging implementation of LEADER approach in Croatia is one of the important area of ODRAZ's work.

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We have already gained significant experience through implementation of two international rural development projects, result of which was establishment of local development partnerships and preparation of strategic sustainable development plans of rural areas. In March 2011, a new project, funded through IPA funds has started.

Croatia's rural regions differ in their natural and geographical, historical and cultural properties, landscapes, flora and fauna, tradition, habits and levels of economic development. Their development should primarily be based on local resources and capabilities. Therefore, no universal approach or pattern are applicable in rural development. There are mandatory requirements and criteria that need to be met, as well as generally accepted guiding principles, such as those of sustainable development that should apply in line with local conditions.

In Croatia, there is poor understanding of modern rural development as applied in the European Union. The basic legal framework is shaped in line with the acquis communautaire. However, the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, regional development agencies, civil society organisations and business sector, aimed at promoting rural development activities and encouraging the use of earmarked financial support, reach down population in rural areas with difficulties. The share of funds used for various rural development support schemes is low, and it increases slowly.

There have been only a number of successful cases over the last several years which demonstrate that voluntary establishment of rural community partnerships aimed at promoting joint development is a long-term process that generally requires a well-defined approach, systematic and qualified leadership and direct financial support. Support from local-self government administration is crucial, particularly in the initial phase. In order to ensure the sustainability of rural development (of local action groups - LAG and achievement of its strategy), it is important to encourage and strengthen the interest, support and participation of the local public.

LEADER approach

  • LEADER tells us about how something should be done, and not what. It is made up of several components - principles which should be followed collectively, i.e. not separately:
  • Sustainable rural development - development based on the preservation and balanced development of environmental, social and economic capital.
  • Area-based approach - each rural area has its own characteristics, potential, special and distinctive features - future planning should be based on them.
  • Bottom-up approach - broad inclusion of all available resources in local communities, resulting in a multitude of ideas and possible solutions, will contribute to appropriate development.
  • Establishment of local partnerships - fragmented initiatives are often ill-fated, particularly in small environments, because they lack force, cogency and community trust; thus, establishment of ties and partnerships, and development of a cooperation spirit are crucial. LEADER's original idea is the creation of local public-private partnerships in the form of local action groups - LAGs.
  • Innovation - tradition clearly forms the basis of sustainable rural development, but innovation is necessary in order to present traditional values in a new and competitive way.
  • Integrated and multi-sectoral approach - sectoral divisions often create development problems. Horizontally, cross-sectoral linking, as well as vertically, linking between local regional and national institutions, is of particular importance in achieving sustainable rural development.
  • Networking - linking, lessons from best practice cases, transfer and exchange of knowledge and experience feature prominently in the implementation of LEADER, because different individual cases are integrated into a development pattern consisting of European rural regions, whilst also ensuring mutual assistance and support.
  • Cooperation - it is a step further from networking, towards setting things in motion and implementing joint projects between two or more LAGs within the country, region and/or European Union.

ODRAZ is one of the founders of the Croatian Rural Development Network and the last few years provides active support to Network.