Last week I participated in a conference in Vienna entitled “Rural potentials for regional development“. One of the issues discussed in one of the workshops at that conference was the field of tension between rural development and regional development policies. Rural development policies focus on the sustainable provision of agriculture’s primary products (food, feed and fibre) and on the other good and services provided by farmers, such as biodiversity, landscape, tourism and care in rural areas. The importance of urban and peri-urban agriculture tends to be somewhat neglected. Regional development policies focus on spatial development and on the economic development of and employment in industry and non-agricultural or rural activities and services. The importance of agriculture in regional development largely remains unnoticed.
The distinction between rural and regional development is becoming increasingly flawed as in large parts of Europe, especially in the more densely populated areas, boundaries between urban and rural are blurring resulting in the emergence of metropolitan regions. Furthermore all kinds of businesses (manufacturing industry as well as secondary and tertiary services), than once were typical for urban areas are now moving to and/or emerging in peri-urban and rural regions. Also we are beginning to see increasing interactions between different kinds of economic activities. Sustainable regional development, in particular in metropolitan and peri-urban regions, can only be achieved when regional development policies and rural development policies are better aligned (or even integrated into one new policy). This requires regional policies to take more notice of the importance of rurality in regional development and rural policies to acknowledge the need of supporting sustainable agricultural development in urban and peri-urban regions.