Italy is one of the least rural countries in the OECD. Nonetheless, many of the international products identifiable by the “Made in Italy” brand are produced in rural areas in the north and in the centre of the country.
Despite the good average performance, a number of structural trends are undermining the sustainability of rural Italy. For example, rural areas have persistent demographic challenges; the concentration of elderly is very high and it is not balanced by immigration of foreign workers.
Ageing, in turn, impacts negatively the delivery of key public services such as health care and education in rural areas. In addition, the undermanaged link between the urban and rural territories and agriculture use is increasing the pressure on water threatening the long-term sustainability of the environment.
In this context, the Italian approach to rural policy appears to be short-sighted. The existing national rural policy framework is very complex and reflects a differentiated notion of “rural”, which continues to be influenced largely by EU agricultural and regional development policy frameworks. However, Italian rural communities would benefit more from a strategic vision that co-ordinates different sectoral policies, such as health and education, and embrace other aspects of rurality to tap local assets and promote quality of life.
A new approach to rural policy in Italy could also improve the effectiveness of public investment, thus reducing the overall need for public funds in the future. Key priorities for future rural policy should include a focus upon stronger territorial analysis, and more emphasis upon rural quality of life and enhanced access to services, particularly for women, young people, and the elderly. More investment in the environment and the “new environmental economy”, particularly to exploit sustainable forest management and to promote renewable energy generation in rural areas, is warranted.
Italy is one of the least “rural” countries within the OECD. According to the OECD classification only 27% of the national territory is predominantly rural (PR). These regions are home to 10% of the national population and produce 8% of the national GDP. A large part of the territory is classified as intermediate rural (IR) which host 37% of the national population, and produce 34% of the national GDP. This chapter provides a detailed profile of Italy’s rural areas, analyses its main trends, and discusses on its challenges and opportunities.
• The rural economy. On average, Italy’s predominantly rural regions (PRs) have some of the highest GDP per capita among the OECD rural regions. For instance, Aosta and Belluno, the richest PRs in Italy, rank respectively third and seventh within the OECD PRs in terms of GDP per capita. Rural Italy’s good performance could be linked to good accessibility, great cultural and natural amenities, and entrepreneurship. The rich endowment of coast, plain and mountains provides rural regions with numerous tourism opportunities. In fact, rural Italy was home to some 17 thousand farm guesthouses in 2006, 9.3% more than in 2005. Manufacturing represents an important part of the rural economy in Italy. In 2003, 12% of Italian manufacturing firms (541 thousand) were in PRs. In some cases the concentration of firms took the form of a diffused small-scale industrialisation with a productive framework strongly interlinked with the local community and an intense division of labour among firms. Although it is generally declining, agriculture continues to provide a number of services, in the field of environment and amenities, and it also represents a cultural background that supports a number of successful economic activities, such as the food industry.
• The sustainability of rural Italy is in question as such, there are a number of important aspects that rural policy could target: 1) the high concentration of elderly in rural areas which is at times interchangeable with depopulation; 2) the ageing and depopulation’s negative impact on the accessibility to key public sectors such as health care and education; 3) the ability to integrate foreign workers in rural areas; 4) the mismanaged integration between rural and urban territories; and, 5) the overall situation of the environment and in particular the need to reduce the pressure that agriculture puts on water resources in some areas of the country.
The rural development policy approach in Italy features two coordinated national strategies (Pillar 2 and Regional development). However, the approach lacks a distinct, integrated strategic vision that embraces other aspects of rurality including health, education and rural quality of life.
The allocation of funds for rural development policy maintains a strong primary sector focus and the over-emphasis upon available EU funding and spending efficiency in programme planning is problematic for several reasons.
The second chapter describes the rural development policy approach in Italy, and analyses these issues and discusses the governance mechanisms underpinning the design and delivery of rural policy.
This chapter sets out a number of policy recommendations to help the Italian rural policy adapt better to the heterogeneous and rapidly evolving context it faces. For instance, there is a need to develop a strategic rural policy framework that incorporates better the social, economic, and environmental issues that characterise rural Italy.
This approach should also involve a greater mix of rural actors from different economic, social and environmental sectors, and should be designed and delivered through stronger, active partnerships between all relevant sectoral Ministries. The policy will also need to be supported by the appropriate policy institutions and governance as well as improve the quality and accessibility of rural services for all rural residents.
In addition there should be more territorial sensitivity in the identification and promotion of appropriate economic diversification, particularly in areas that add value to local rural resources: foods, customs, cultures, skills and heritage.
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