Which type of development for rural areas?
The implementation of those actions raises questions about the place and role of rural areas in this policy. Is there a possible smart future for rural areas in Europe? Are they able to participate in these development processes? Or will they remain under-developed regions, lagging behind, in the periphery?
To answer this question one must bear in mind that rural areas have, in theory, a low innovation capacity (understood as technological innovation) because of the absence of conventional innovation drivers in those areas, and in particular that they are deficient in the following areas, generally considered highly conducive to innovation activity
- • Concentration of talent and presence of a creative class: cities are environments generally considered to be highly conducive to the emergence of a creative class, who generate many inventions and innovations, and is the source of increased knowledge
- • High skills in research and development: they are linked to the existence of public and private laboratories and R&D departments of large companies, also located in urban areas
- • Transport and communication networks: they are poorly developed in rural areas, which often seem isolated and difficult to access
- • Size and characteristics of market demand: The small size of rural communities does not allow for the creation of enough market demand
- • Presence of a network of skills and potential partners: another effect of small population size is the low density of enterprises and related activities
- • Access to finance for innovative project and to land for economic development: here again, this is related to population density, transaction volumes and availability of resources
In this context, many of the policies for rural development aim to address these shortcomings or deficiencies, in a more or less targeted way. It should be pointed out that questions concerning the validity, efficiency and originality of policies for the development of rural areas have been on the table for a long time (Torre and Wallet, 2016). Indeed, the concept of rural development has progressively emerged in the social and political debates and progressively established itself in the OECD countries (OECD, 2006). Doubts about the green revolution development programs have led to more open reflections about the dominant paradigm of technological diffusion and its validity with regards to the involvement of local populations and various types of activities (Neuchâtel group, 1999). But the renewed interest in rural development, driven by international organizations and local initiatives, is also related to the growing diversity of populations and activities in these areas, to the environmental impact of development operations (deforestation, destruction of biodiversity ...), to the rising frequency of social and land use conflicts, and to the increasing diversity in production systems in these areas.
Nowadays rural development is an integral component of EU policies and one of the pillars of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). A substantial part of the CAP for the rural development of nations and regions does not only include measures for agriculture, but also measures for the preservation of the environment and natural resources, for promoting a diversification of activities and raising living standards. Indeed, the recognition of the multifaceted nature of rural areas has highlighted the necessity to assess not only the agricultural development and its impact in terms of externalities, but also the other dimensions of rural areas, namely business, services, tourism or nature (Brouwer and Sas-Pazt, 2011).
However, in recent years there has been growing agreement that the rural sector policies have not achieved the expected results. The measures intended to promote the preservation of the environment have appeared insufficient to adequately respond to climate and ecological challenges, which can only be tackled through radical measures that facilitate and accelerate the agro-ecological and energy transition, and by taking better account of the interactions between the different spatial scales. But those policies have also had limitations in terms of economic development, which has resulted in a growing demand for policies involving territorial dimensions (Barca et al., 2009). In a context of pressure on public funding, the large CAP budgets for agriculture have proved unable to maintain agricultural employment and incomes for a substantial percentage of farmers. But more generally, all the intervention measures aimed at supporting rural regions and activities have been called into question, in particular because of increased territorial competition and of the failure of cohesion policies to significantly redress the imbalances between the most dynamic regions and those in a more fragile situation, including many rural areas. Suggestions for possible solutions whereby local initiatives are given more attention and support have echoed demands for fiscal and administrative decentralization, which would help to produce solutions tailored to respond to development issues specific to the different territories, in what is often described as a context of state disengagement. Thus, new forms of economic and social actions are developed at local level, most often on the basis of various forms of proximity between individuals and of the various types of networks they belong to; actions which indirectly points to the structural weaknesses of certain rural territories where the emergence and long term development of such processes are particularly difficult.
In the meantime, the increasing urban sprawl and the growth of cities justify taking account peri-urbanization processes as well as the competition between the different types of land uses (van Leeuwen and Nijkamp, 2006). It is now apparent that the traditional distinction between urban and rural areas is no longer clear-cut due to the urbanization of city peripheries, which has given rise to new types of territories of a peripheral nature, that bear little resemblance to traditional monocentric cities. These areas are often characterized by high rates of land artificialization and rampant and sweeping urbanization (Couch et al., 2008), through the development of residential suburbs or of infrastructure serving cities (offices, factories, expressways, waste treatment or energy production plants) (Westlund, 2018).
However, the notion of rural development, which connotes overall development of rural areas with a view to improve the quality of life of rural people, is sometimes poorly defined in the literature (Singh, 2009). Many studies relate to the question of learning and of skill and knowledge acquisition by local populations, at individual or collective level (Richardson, 2005; Falk and Harrison, 1998). Others approach rural development from the angle of capacity-building and empowerment, and place emphasis on the necessity to improve the capacities and competencies of rural populations (Nussbaum, 2000; Lincoln et al., 2002). A third group of studies attribute a key role to civil society, by including in projects, decision-making processes and local development, not only farmers and public authorities, but also a whole range of mostly local actors (Berger, 2003; Jordan et al., 2005).
Many authors now consider that a new paradigm of rural development is emerging and gaining autonomy from the dominant agro-industrial production model, while integrating strong links between rural and urban areas (Roling and de Jong, 1998, Marsden, 2006). Accompanied by the rise of agroecology (Altieri, 1987), a recognition of the multifunctionality of farming operations (Dannenberg and Kulke, 2016), and the prospects provided by circular economy models, this paradigm now includes the idea that it is necessary to take into account the diversity in the profiles of rural areas, including in their relations to cities and in their economic structure. It is thought to be emerging both in the practices and interventions of actors in the field and in public policies: rural development is seen as a multilevel, multiactors and multidimension process (van der Ploeg et al., 2000).
This paradigm advocates for a new scientific approach to these areas and points to the necessity of examining the different ways in which the various territories are governed, and of transforming public policy design, in order to understand how decisions are made and how rural development projects are undertaken and the role of stakeholders in the decision-making process (Pierre, 2000; Torre and Traversac, 2011). In this respect, the movement towards smart specialization raises the question of what form of governance should be implemented to support this development model (Kyriakou et al., 2016), in order to integrate peculiar local institutional dimensions as well (da Rosa Pires et al., 2014; Sorvik et al., 2019).