Learning about the role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development

Together with four students of Wageningen University, I spend two weeks in Kaunas, Lithuania to represent Wageningen University, and the Rural Sociology Group, at this years’ ‘Intensive Programme’ on rural development. In this post I would like to reflect on this interesting experience and share some of the activities, impressions and outcomes.


Intensive programme?

An ‘Intensive Programme’ (or IP) is a short study programme bringing together different EU member states’ students and teachers from higher education institutes to study a relevant topic, in this case: rural development. EU’s main motivation to finance these programmes is to encourage multinational learning and teaching in the EU. The Rural Sociology Group has been participating in IP’s on rural development for some years now. Last years’ IP, hosted by colleagues of Padova University, focused on ‘the role of agriculture in territorial identity’ and took place in the Belluno province in the Italian Dolomites. We have also participated in IP’s with other themes. More recent, colleague Petra Derksen participated in an IP on traditional foods and micro-organisms in Romania. In a series of posts on this weblog she, and participating students, reflect on their experiences in this programme.        

The role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development

This years’ IP, on rural development, focused on ‘the role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development’. The programme was hosted by colleagues from the Aleksandras Stulginskis University in Kaunas, Lithuania. Twenty tutors and more than forty students came together for two weeks to discuss and learn about (Lithuanian) rural development. Participants represented universities from: Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Spain and the Netherlands.

First week: regional analysis

The programme started with a series of interesting lectures about the role of agriculture and natural resources management in the context of rural development. These lectures provided participants’ ‘luggage’ required for the main task that week: the regional analysis. For three days, the group was split up in subgroups which all visited one region. By visiting various sights and meeting many local actors (such as: government officials, nature protectors, entrepreneurs, members of so-called Local Action Groups (LAG’s), farmers etc.) students had to construct an image of the territorial identity of the given region (focusing on social-cultural or economic-environmental dimensions). Back at campus, participants worked on their analysis and presented their results with interesting presentations describing the visited areas.

The intensive first week was closed by some leisure time on Sunday. Most of the participants choose to ‘cool down’ by visiting two of the main touristic attractions of Lithuania: the beautiful town and castle of Trakai and Lithuania’s stunning capital Vilnius.

Second week: problem analysis and strategy development    

In the second week, new groups were made and students started working on a transversal problem analysis and strategy development of the visited regions. The analysis and strategy had to focus on one of the following themes: agriculture, non-agriculture, environment and landscape, social capital, institutional surrounding or cultural heritage. My group focused on environment and landscape. During the fieldwork, my students found a lack of cooperation and communication between stakeholders and identified this as one of the main problems concerning the protection of environment and landscape in the regions. Based on this problem, students developed a detailed strategy with activities aiming to enhance communication and cooperation between the stakeholders in the areas. Although, the group work wasn’t always easy, the final results and presentations of all six groups were impressive. The results, final presentations and their video’s are available on the IP website.     


For me, and other participants, the IP was a great opportunity to meet and work with people from other EU member states and to learn more about (European) rural development. Special thanks to our hostess professor Vilma Atkočiūnienė, Daiva Urmoniene, Renata Gelaziute and the Aleksandras Stulginskis University for the organisation and inviting us to Kaunas, Lithuania.