Among other attractions at the
four-day OKRA agricultural fair held in Oripää,
the Leader tent, where various rural entrepreneurs had the opportunity to
present themselves to the public. A wide range of products, from surveillance
cameras to ground flax seed, were on sale from Leader beneficiaries.
– Inside the Leader tent
at OKRA, visitors could smell, taste and try out some of the results of the
Leader programme. This was our way of showcasing the large number of great
projects underway in rural areas, explains Juha-Matti
Markkola, Network Coordinator at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s
Rural Network Unit.
Also present in the Leader
tent, to provide more information about his
association’s activities, was coordinaton and communication officer Stefanos
Loukopoulos from Leader’s umbrella organisation ELARD (European LEADER Association for Rural Development). Mr. Loukopoulos said
that like any other EU member state, Finland has its own high-quality
– Local food appears to be a very strong trend in Finland at the
moment. It is wonderful that locally
produced food is appreciated here, too.
ELARD promotes the Leader programme
The objective of ELARD is
to disseminate the philosophy of the Leader method in Europe,
from local grassroots level to institutional level. According to Loukopoulos, the future looks
bright for the Leader method in the next programming period 2013–2020. He
believes that Leader will play a major role in the Europe 2020 strategy that is
seeking smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
– Specific goals have been set for 2020. To
achieve those goals we are working to augment the benefits derived from the
Leader approach. We have some new ideas for the next programming period, such
as local action groups operating in urban areas.
Local Action Groups have proven
to be a highly effective rural development method. Supporting local action
creates more resources for development work. In this respect, rural villages
and urban districts are no different; local action should be promoted and
supported in urban areas too.
Thousands of European
Local Action Groups believe that the Leader approach is the key to finding
innovative and socially and environmentally sustainable solutions for rural
development. Threats identified by Loukopoulos include the euro crisis and the
reserved attitude of the farming-intensive EU member states towards the Leader
– In the next programming period, Leader will play a key role and has
already won the Commission’s approval.
Local Action Groups will receive more funding from various sources, such
as the social and structural funds, Loukopoulos explains.
Leader programme results
Loukopoulos feels that
Local Action Groups should be even more vocal about the results of their
efforts, since this would strengthen the Groups’ position.
– By joining forces,
LAGs can have a wider, nation-wide impact, which will help them to make a
The Leader approach was
adopted in the EU in 1991. Finland
became involved in the Leader programme in 1995. At the moment, there are 56
LAGs in Finland.
In the current programming
period 2007–2013, LAGs working under the Leader programme have provided support
to some 2,800 projects and more than 2,500 businesses, in their efforts to
promote local business and communities. In addition, the programming period has
seen the emergence of almost 700 new businesses, new jobs equalling some 950
man-years, and 860 village development, landscaping or environmental plans.
Text and photo: Viivi Lakkapää