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Importance and strengthening of self-sufficiency and short supply chains in rural areas through the LEADER/CLLD approach

At a time when Slovenia is once again facing an epidemic, the importance of local self-sufficiency and short supply chains is particularly highlighted. Every third Friday in November we celebrate Slovenian Food Day, in whose context the Traditional Slovenian Breakfast project, consisting of locally produced and processed foods, will be carried out this year for the tenth consecutive year.

Brand Dolina Soče (Soča Valley)

Brand Dolina Soče (Soča Valley) | Author MKGP

The strengthening of short supply chains and food self-sufficiency is supported through the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 within the Cooperation measure as well as the LEADER measure being part of the CLLD joint approach. Within this bottom-up approach co-financed by three European funds (European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and European Regional Development Fund) a wide range of projects bringing together and integrating different sectors and stakeholders in the local area are implemented.

37 Local Action Groups (LAGs) play a major role in connecting and addressing local needs, covering the whole territory of Slovenia, and thus bringing together different partners in the field with their tripartite structure. Already in the first wave of declared coronavirus epidemic, some LAGs connected and brought together local food producers and other service providers. The lists of local suppliers were published on the LAGs websites and on the portal of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food under the title of “Naša Super Hrana”.

Local development strategies approved for each LAG area often encourage the development of short supply chains and the marketing of locally produced products linking together local cuisine, wines, the tradition of apiculture and other traditional local products. Such projects often raise awareness of the importance of using and consuming locally produced products. The approach also established some new brands of locally produced products and services in order to promote and foster the marketing of local products.

LEADER/CLLD projects are highly interdisciplinary and complex in nature, have multiplier effects, and are closely intertwined in terms of content, making strict substantive separation very difficult to determine. Nevertheless, an analysis of the substance of the LEADER projects approved so far (over 500) shows a 12% share of projects relating to agriculture, forestry and food.

Projects on agriculture, forestry and food cover a very wide sphere, particularly in the context of complementary farm activities, where programmes, services and products are supported to increase local self-sufficiency such as local food, fruit growing, wine, meat, vegetables, hay milk, etc., as well as short supply chains, branding and marketing of various products. Such projects often transfer knowledge on the importance of preserving agricultural land and include pilot projects demonstrating the preservation of old crops, indigenous breeds, herbalism, horticulture, and projects related to beekeeping and the importance of forest conservation.

Revitalisation of marketplaces

Using the LEADER funds, a covered market in Sodražica was set up, while in many other locations the existing marketplaces were modernised and/or upgraded (in Hrastnik, Žalec, Prebold, Pivola, etc.). The marketplace in Pivola or the so-called Pohorje Marketplace is an excellent example of a marketplace set up for local producers of regional importance, as it brings together producers, processors and consumers of three municipalities – Hoče-Slivnica, Miklavž na Dravskem Polju and Starše.

A project carried out in the Meža Valley established basic conditions for the marketing of local produce and products, since in all four municipalities (Ravne na Koroškem, Prevalje, Mežica and Črna na Koroškem) the marketplaces were modernised and upgraded or newly built as well as suitably furnished.

Marketplaces are also being revitalised in central urban and sub-urban Slovenia, where plans to increase the supply of local producers and craftsmen are envisaged. Moreover, the marketplaces in Domžale, Komenda, Medvode, Mengeš, Vodice and Trzin are to be expanded with additional stalls.

Development of local brands

Within the Rogla-Pohorje tourist destination, the “Okusi Rogle” (“Tastes of Rogla”) brand is being re-established in order to bring together a high-quality culinary programme. Moreover, the brand will contribute to setting up and upgrading the product evaluation system for the award of quality label, as well as to establishing a network of providers and a system of sales chains for local products and outlets, which will help raise brand recognition.

The Soča River region brought together its providers under the “Dolina Soče” (“Soča Valley”) collective brand which also connects organic farmers, food producers, craftsmen and others through its corporate identity and activities. Projects co-financed by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund are also being implemented in this region. In one of these projects, the Planika Dairy and the Faronika Fish Farm joined their respective efforts and created an innovative local product: fish spread with chunks of smoked trout from the Faronika Fish Farm and Tolmin cottage cheese from the Planika Dairy. This spread was voted online as the best food product in the 2020 competition by the readers of Finance and the Agrobiznis portal.

Dolenjska region is connected by a CLLD project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, under which the “Dobrote Dolenjske” (“Dolenjska Delights”) collective brand was created, bringing together not only the providers for a joint market appearance, but also preparing the Dolenjska Gastronomy Strategy and launching culinary events, new tourism products and a mobile shop.

The “Jeruzalem Slovenia” collective brand, which brings together the providers of Prlekija region municipalities, winemakers, tourist farms, beekeepers and the producers of pumpkin oil, meat products and others, is also gaining recognition.

The “Secret Village” brand was created around Postojna and Pivka municipalities. Among other activities a website was launched with an online store for the marketing of organic agricultural products, the sales programme was expanded and the packaging and labels were designed under this project.

Local self-sufficiency in public institutions

Around Škofja Loka, great emphasis is placed on local self-sufficiency and short supply chains in educational institutions, so a project aimed at all four municipalities (Gorenja Vas – Poljane, Škofja Loka, Železniki and Žiri) and promoting food self-sufficiency by increasing local production, processing and consumption, aims to increase the competitiveness of local producers and the local food market, boost the availability of local food for the local population, and additionally, foster balanced meals in schools and set-up short supply chains.

In Prlekija region (North-Eastern Slovenia), the projects strive to increase the number of educational institutions ordering local food, to reduce the amount of food waste and to increase the share of consumption of locally grown food in public institutions as well as in households throughout the area. This project has developed pilot software that will help improve food purchasing, as well as facilitate monitoring and simplification of the food ordering system for educational establishments. Several trainings and workshops within the project have contributed to better qualified local food providers and to their increased production and sales, as well as to a greater connectivity between local producers and consumers.

Cooperation projects of local action groups

Cooperation projects between different LAGs co-financed under the LEADER measure, sub-measure Preparation and implementation of LAG cooperation activities, have a significant added value in raising awareness about food self-sufficiency, joint market appearance of providers and the transfer of knowledge about locally produced food. Cooperation projects play a particularly important role as they connect not only the local area but also broader areas, which are not always spatially related or are even connected with areas in foreign countries. The promotion of short food supply chains and local markets is just one of the areas supported by this sub-measure. As many as 28 LAG cooperation projects were approved in the framework of five public tenders during the 2014-2020 programming period.

The project “Open farms – experiential learning on farms” (“Odprta vrata kmetij”) connected four LAGs: LAG Loka’s Mountains (LAS loškega pogorja), LAG The Heart of Slovenia (LAS Srce Slovenije), LAG For Community-Initiative-Lineage (LAS S CILjem) and LAG Gorenjska Košarica (LAS Gorenjska košarica). Through these LAGs, the project also encompassed several farms engaged in hay milk production and processing, and the growing and processing of berries and other fruits. A tour of the providers involved in the so-called fruit chain was organised. Farmers exchanged their experiences in fruit and berries production and processing and learned about the possibilities of marketing and processing berries as a complementary source of income. In orchards they got acquainted with heritage varieties of fruit trees and the planning of meadow orchards; while visiting a nursery they learned about planning, maintaining and trimming of fruit trees, as well as methods of determining fruit ripeness. On farms they also watched fruit being processed into wine and vinegar, as well as the processing of fruits into juices, spirits and dried fruit. The project also included a visit to farms participating in the so-called hay chain (preparation of fodder for hay milk, cheese processing, production of yogurt from hay milk and production of goat hay milk). In this way, the project aims to raise awareness of various target consumer groups through several communication channels, including direct experience on farms. The focus is on restoring the value to agricultural products that they used to have in the past. A strong emphasis is placed on raising awareness of different target groups of consumers, including direct experience on the farms.

”Eating different, eating local!” (“Jem drugače, jem domače!”) cooperation project was focused on increasing food self-sufficiency and was carried out by five LAGs in Podravje region, and Obsotelje and Kozjansko region: LAG Good for us (LAS Dobro za nas), LAG Richness of rural areas along the Drava River and in Slovenske gorice Hills (LAS Bogastvo podeželja ob Dravi in v Slovenskih goricah), LAG Swallow (LAS Lastovica), LAG Obsotelje and Kozjansko (LAS Obsotelje in Kozjansko) and TOTI LAG (TOTI LAS). Within these areas several training modules on product marketing, promotions and sales, and on joint market appearance of local producers (10 participants) were carried out. A joint corporate identity was designed and an e-catalogue of providers was compiled. The project was well received among kindergarten and primary school children, with children learning about the importance of locally produced food through practical demonstrations of food preparation. The project was also presented as an example of good practice at the European Network for Rural Development event in Brussels.

“GlaMUR” is a cross-border cooperation project involving LAG Prlekija (LAS Prlekija) and LAG Ovtar Slovenske Gorice (LAS Ovtar Slovenskih goric), where the cross-border GlaMUR brand was created in cooperation with a foreign partner from Austria. By September 2020, it has connected around 200 local providers and municipalities from the area of the partners involved. Their offered programme can be accessed via the Klopotec mobile application, and a website is also being set up. Providers are also connected through sale stalls and a variety of cross-border promotion activities. During coronavirus preventive measures (e.g. closed shops) and a shortage of goods, many providers have made their supplies available to local communities without rising prices, which is of great importance in terms of short routes and the local economy.

The “Hand in Hand towards Quality Food” (“Z roko v roki do kakovostne prehrane”) project, implemented by four LAGs: LAG Heritage Trails from Turjak to Kolpa (LAS Po poteh dediščine od Turjaka do Kolpe), LAG Notranjska (LAS Notranjska), LAG Between Snežnik and Nanos (LAS Med Snežnikom in Nanosom), and LAG Dolenjska and Bela Krajina (LAS Dolenjska in Bela krajina), will aim to set up an effective local sustainable supply system with local produce mainly for public institutions, and thus the creation of short supply chains. The project is targeted at identifying the needs of public institutions for local products and at the same time at raising their awareness as to the importance of local products on the one hand, and effectively connecting them with local producers on the other.

Implementation of a workshop within the Hand in Hand towards Quality Food cooperation project, photo: LAG Dolenjska and Bela Krajina archive

Next steps?

In the context of the “Our Food, Rural and Natural Resources 2021” ("Naša hrana, podeželje in naravni viri od leta 2021") resolution, the LEADER approach is recognised as one of the effective cooperation measures supporting innovative approaches in the integration and marketing of produce and other products. At this point we emphasise the synergy of food production and processing with tourism in the countryside, cuisine and the creation of new business opportunities in this area.

The measures implemented by local communities are important in terms of support for the specific initiatives of rural populations and will have an even more important role of agricultural policy in the future, as awareness of the importance of local supply is increasing. The latest measure provides a good basis for the more effective integration of local initiatives to link agriculture, food and tourism, and the supply of local food to public institutions.

This content is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, which is also the managing authority designated for the implementation of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.