This meeting has taken place in the ville of Marche-en-Fammennes, in the southeast of Brussels, with represents from small Mediterranean and European cities (Tarragona in Spain, Trier-Saarburg and Hofheim in Germany); territorial groups, (such as IDELUX of Luxembourg); international organizations, (like REDRURAL, GFAR and ourselves, YPARD); research agencies (like Jules Destrée Institute, CIRAD and the library of Alexandria and a big farmers’ association, COLDIRETTI from Italy). Through every stakeholder’s research or experience, we had the opportunity to discover the progress followed by small cities by the promotion of their own resources.
Examples such as Marche-en-Famennes, Trier-Saarburg, Hofheim or Tarragona demonstrate how the economic progress is intrinsically connected to the social dimension. Measures mainly focused on promoting economy cannot succeed if they lack a social perspective.
Mr. Charles Ferdinand Nothomb, a major of Marche-en-Famennes, explained that a great economic effort, such as the training development in the XIX siècle, was not able to avoid the rural exodus between the 50s and 60s. A local retention plan succeeds thanks to its economic and social projection.
The mechanization of agriculture during the 50s and the urban revolution of the 60s resulted in communities’ merge and land extension. This effect continued with the industrial expansion, which gave birth to the international trade. Politics were based on prioritizing rural areas, which were a target of European funding to implement rural development plans. The plan for this small city consisted of promoting economic innovation through tourism. This effort was translated in a museum of the city, cycle paths all around and a center for the rural economy.
According to its major, Mr. Gunter Schartz, Trier-Saarburg was abandoned by the foreign soldiers after the World War, leaving big areas and buildings free. At that moment, this city meant a great dispense for the government, so it had a great autonomy for management. Nowadays, it is an urban area well provided by services, where the unemployment index is only 2.7 %. Indeed, German constitution holds that rural areas must have the same rights, opportunities and tools for development. Furthermore, there is a great autonomy for local governments to develop rural areas, which also means a big responsibility.
Hofheim, in the Bavarian region, was an area abandoned after the II World War, states its major, Mr. Wolfgang Borst. The German government wanted to improve living conditions in the area around Berlin, so this region granted financing to modernize houses, to invest in technology for agriculture and to install optic fiber to provide internet connection. A total occupation was achieved thanks to the collaboration of seven communities around which incremented 20% the population. In brief, reuniting adequate conditions to enjoy a peaceful life, in connection with nature and agriculture and the facility to do remote work, has created an influence area of 300 Km around.
Mr. Jorge Villamayor, major or Tarragona, presents this city, with 800,000 inhabitants, as being held by the petrochemical industry, a harbor and restaurant business. The rural area has benefited from a great transformation due to plans to adapt to climate change, a regional agriculture strategy focused on the value chain of nut and grape, a union with innovation through enterprises and the promotion of cultural values, thanks first of all to its consideration as “cultural heritage” given by UNESCO. Nowadays, its theatre festival in Roman ruins to share the history of the city, together with other social and gastronomic activities makes Tarragona a great place to visit and enjoy.
Thanks to the intercommon help of Luxembourg (formed by 44 communities), Mr. Henry Demortier, General Director of IDELUX, explains to us how the economic development together with the environmental one creates proper conditions to attract people to live in these areas. Creating spaces for enterprises to establish and grow and offering adequate water and sanitation networks to populations is a strong way to fix population in a certain area.
Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD) is presented by Tarek Soliman and María Jesús Blanco, as an international movement of young professionals for the young professional farmers to contribute to agricultural development. It is an open network and an online platform to raise their voice and concerns, to introduce their innovative ideas and to translate them into the political dialogue.
Ricardo Fargione represents Coldiretti, the Confederzione Nazionale Coltivatori Diretti, which is the greatest representation and assessment association for farmers in Italy. 60% of Italian surface is rural. This surface hires 20% of its population. Its objectives contemplate 3 axes: to improve the agriculture sector in Italy and in the European Union by making stronger its distribution chain, its transparency and its food security, to promote the role of young farmers and their union with innovation within the multi-action of rural policy, and to look for territorial equality according to production and investment diversification.
The presence of the research sector threshes the main elements to define territorial development. The Global Forum of Agricultural Research (GFAR), with the support of Professor Wale Adenkule, introduces us the development of villages or small cities in developing countries based on a common work which relies on dialogue and exchange. It is necessary to identify the original context, to value local capacities and to talk and integrate beneficiaries to design a well-structured project.
Elodie Valette is a researcher at International Cooperation Center of Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD, for its acronym in French), an organization focused on agronomic research in developing countries, which considers physiology of plants, environment, social and political issues. She states that territorial development in her organization is based on scientific knowledge to understand territorial problems, and on research projects, in order to implement actions to improve territorial quality. This development must be organized according to the principle of territorial equity.
Philippe Destatte, general director of Jules Destrée Institut introduces a new concept: “metropolization”, as the population’s movement towards wide metropolitan areas. This movement needs to be based on circular economy, on adding value to local production, promoting the capacity to connect people through technology and on innovation (particularly in agriculture). In this sense, it is necessary to have a clear strategy to direct stakeholders to a common vision.
Fatima Bensoltane, vice-president of the organizer Foundation, presents us how sustainable development has been considered for the first time in the Tunisian constitution. Civil society has been integrated itself in the regional development. Nowadays strategies are established at a national, regional and international level, and the main subjects are bio-agriculture, ecotourism, feminine entrepreneurship and youth integration for employment to avoid radicalization and migration.
Finally, Sameh Fawzy, director of the library of Alexandria, conceptualizes the territorial development concept as the need to identify local demands, to interview local communities to look for synergies (with farmers and enterprises) and the interest of capitalizing successful practices.
In brief, development of rural or small urban areas is possible with a integrative development strategy that takes into consideration economy by establishing the conditions (tools and infrastructure) to companies to be able to set up and grow and to agriculture to be able to rely on local production and promote their value chain, favoring the environmental protection and making the most of its cultural heritage and values.
Picture credit: Maria Jesús Blanco