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Types of interaction between economy, rural society, environment and agricultural activities in European regions

Final Report Summary - TERESA (Types of interaction between Economy, Rural Society, Environment and Agricultural activities in European regions)

Based upon the general deficit of agricultural and regional policy not being able to picture the interactions and interdependencies between agriculture and the rest of the rural economy in all its complexity, the main objective of this project is to shed light on these patterns of integration of agricultural structures in different regional contexts.

The key theme of TERESA was 'the mutual interactions that take place between agriculture, the environment and other aspects, social and economic, of the wider rural development processes'. These demands for an integrated and multifunctional role of agriculture are more and more mainstreamed in European agricultural and rural development policies. The dimensions of these claims are frequently categorised as follows: the economic function, the social function and the environmental function.

But not only society is concerned by an integrated agriculture, but also the supply side, the farmers, have an interest in closer linkages to the rest of the rural world. Differentiating products, moving along the supply chain ('deepening'), diversifying activities ('broadening') or economic restructuring and pluriactivity ('regrounding') are all farmer's strategies for securing income via tying up with other rural actors.

The combination of the demand and the supply side illustrates the objective of the TERESA project, linking multifunctionality with regional cooperation to achieve a truly goal orientated sustainable rural development. The TERESA project focused on the region and the interdependencies of the economic sectors within the region rather than looking at policies as the starting point of the research. Based on the functions discussed, the TERESA triangular model of sustainable rural development, incorporating the interrelations between agriculture, rural economy, society and the environment into a sustainable rural development, was sketched.

The empirical analysis conducted within the framework of the TERESA project was based on two sources:
- Firstly, a set of potential integration data was established to calculate a cluster analysis of European regions according to their specific integration that allows the identification of specific regional needs.
- Secondly, information in eleven case studies in selected European areas was collected. The heart of this information collection was the assessment of 43 representative or specific innovative supply chains in these regions that were used for a typology of interrelations between agricultural production and rural development and, in a more experimental approach, as input data for an agent-based model.

In three types of regions agriculture has neither a strongly cooperational nor clearly competitive links to other sectors but rather shows a coexisting pattern. These more rural 'stand-alone agricultural regions' still have a very traditional and important agriculture, a low level economic development (but strong growth) and struggle with out-migration. This type can only be found in the accession states of the new millennium. A second type of lagging regions has a clear ongoing transition to secondary and tertiary activities ('regions in transition').

Mainly regions from the European Union (EU) enlargements of 2003 and the Mediterranean regions can be found in this cluster. The type of region that is economically more potent (and in most cases more urbanised) but still has a low level of integration of farming is characterised as 'side-by-side regions'. All these coexistence types mainly feature standard supply chains. The main impact of agriculture is its weight in the local employment but still it seems to be reduced to its primary production food supply contribution. This type of region is typical for central Western Europe.

The TERESA ABM experiments indicated that the resilience and robustness of agricultural systems cannot be reduced to the level of diversity of a system, to the behavioural responses of actors to a stress or to the functioning of the system at the time of the stress alone. Instead, the results suggest that the interactions between decision rules, their effect on the function (or performance) of the system and the subsequent effects of the performance on future decisions play an important role with regard to the resilience and robustness of agricultural supply chains. Thus, it is the interaction between function and decision rules that provides a system's ability to cope with stresses.

Finally, to handle in a practical way these challenges TERESA re-examined another tool: the notion of territorial (place-based) projects and contracts. It allows us to discuss both the issues of public goods and justification to support agriculture and the practical implementation of 'place based' approach and certification of products, including geographical (as Protected designation of origin (PDO) products) but also environmental and social (namely sustainable) concerns.