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Research Headlines - Supporting EU-wide sustainable rural development

© veneratio #79835610, source: 2018

In Europe, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy aims to support the sustainable development of the continent’s rural areas. However, as these areas are spread across many countries, landscapes and cultures, they are inherently diverse and complex. As a result, when it comes to agricultural development in Europe, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Recognising this complexity, the EU-funded C-BIRD project aimed to promote the implementation of successful cooperative models focused on common economic, social and environmental advantages.

The project targeted small-scale farmers, co-op and producer organisations, agro-industrial enterprises, social enterprises as well as the various other actors along the agricultural value chain with the objective of empowering them to become direct participants in rural development at the local level.

“Cooperative movements are hardly a new topic and are well acknowledged for their capacity to contribute to local development, economic growth and social well-being,’ says C-BIRD project coordinator Darina Zaimova of Trakia University in Bulgaria. “However, there is a significant divergence at the European level, particularly in rural areas, between success stories in countries with a strong cooperative tradition and the modest efforts and successes seen in Eastern European countries.”

For example, rural areas like Almeria in Spain and Trentino in Italy are supported by strong cooperative societies and producer organisations, Zaimova adds. In contrast, in rural areas where these are absent, such as in Bulgaria and Serbia, there is a corresponding lack of networks and value chains necessary for sustainable development.

Filling the knowledge gap

Described as an efficient vehicle for community development, cooperatives have been the subject of numerous theoretical studies. Yet there remains limited understanding of how such models are influenced by certain external constraints – a knowledge gap that C-BIRD researchers set out to fill.

“C-BIRD was dedicated to understanding the critical elements of the institutional system, policy instruments, stakeholder engagement and knowledge mechanisms in terms of their specific features, constraints and capability to promote and support collective action,” says Zaimova. “The ultimate goal was to create practical knowledge and viable networks at the local, national and international levels capable of developing and supporting cooperative movements that promote rural sustainability.”

To accomplish this, project researchers focused on five countries with strong agricultural sectors: Spain, Italy, Ireland, Bulgaria and Serbia.

Specific areas were chosen for each country from which a range of quantitative, qualitative and case study analyses were carried out via exchanges between industry and academic institutions. From this process, researchers were able to identify which cooperative models were the most successful.

The project implemented several important vehicles to facilitate the exchange of knowledge. For example, the C-BIRD network brought together academia, business, cooperative and local authorities to share best practices. From this swapping of information, each rural region could then tailor the model to best meet their unique needs.

Enhancing cooperative models

The project’s efforts are paying off. Thanks to the effective knowledge sharing, participating rural areas have enhanced their cooperative models and, as a result, are seeing an increase in sustainable development. In Serbia, for example, the project worked with a local government to establish an organisation dedicated to the next generation of farmers.

“The project’s real impact will be seen in the future,” adds Zaimova. “As our findings are implemented, we expect to see an enhancement of living standards and an overall improvement of environmental management in Europe’s rural regions.”

C-BIRD received funding through the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme.

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