Western Balkan Rural Extension Network through Curriculum Reform
2nd WBREN Conference: University of Sarajevo 10th April 2012
Summary of Proceedings
The Faculty of Agriculture at University of Sarajevo hosted the second Western Balkan Rural Extension Network annual conference, under the theme ‘Supporting rural development through higher and non-formal education’. Opening speeches by Prof. dr Senaid Memić, Mayor of Municipality Ilidža, Sarajevo Canton, Mr. Pejo Janjić, Assistant Minister for Agricultural Policy and International Cooperation at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry, and Prof. dr Mirsad Kurtović, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at University of Sarajevo emphasized the relevance of the conference theme to the current challenges and opportunities facing the rural economies of Western Balkan (WB) countries. Professor Chris Garforth presented a brief update on the WBREN TEMPUS project. New postgraduate curricula are being offered in partner universities, programmes of in-service, non-formal training have been developed, Rural Extension Centres have been established in five universities, and the network itself has been strengthened through its website (www.wbren.org), frequent workshops and the annual conference.
Chris Garforth’s keynote paper proposed that rural areas in the EU have been experiencing under development – a loss of working age population to the cities, closure of social, transport and commercial services, and a decline in rural economic activity. The EU’s Rural Development Programme (RDP) seeks to reverse this by encouraging development that strengthens local businesses, builds sustainable rural communities and enhances the rural environment. Key to this is support for local action through the LEADER approach for which highly competent professionals are needed who can stimulate local initiative, research and planning, and have a sound conceptual understanding of rural economy, ecology and sociology.
Erisa Cela of the Institute for Democracy and Mediation in Albania spoke about the experiences of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in rural development in the WB region. NGOs have proved themselves effective and efficient promoters of the LEADER approach through their support for Local Action Groups (LAGs) and have been active in the creation and functioning of National Rural Networks.
Hansje Eppink of Wageningen University explained how curricula for education and training can be built from an analysis of the competencies that participants need to have in order to work effectively in their chosen field. From this analysis, we can define the knowledge, skills and attitudes that individuals need to integrate in their working practice.
The afternoon session heard case studies from WB countries. Professor Fatbardh Sallaku of Agricultural University Tirana explored the challenges and prospects of agricultural and rural development policy in Albania, as a candidate country for EU entry. The experience of IPARD (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance for Rural Development) suggests that policy measures need to be targeted on specific objectives and concentrate on the main priorities, while advisory service providers need to be well trained in consultancy skills.
Professor Hamid Custovic of University of Sarajevo referred to the example of Trebinje Municipality to explain how strategic planning for rural development can be done, using a process based on the bottom-up LEADER approach. In Trebinje, the process led to the identification of around 50 specific projects that would contribute to three linked objectives: socio-economic revitalization, sustainable management of natural resources, and improving the quality of life in rural communities.
Marija Gjoseva Kovacevic from the Federation of Farmers in the Republic of Macedonia spoke about the ways in which farmers’ organizations can be an effective bridge between farmers and government, through lobbying and advocacy for policies that support rural development, and contributing to the implementation of projects. The IPARD experience in Macedonia has been positive in that it identified potential for development and led to good pilot experience through private sector investment; however, the bureaucracy and time consuming process for accessing IPARD funds has proved frustrating.
Jelena Milovanovic from Singidunum University and Katarina Lazić from MOBA Farmer Association presented their experience of participatory planning for rural development in the municipality of Ljig. Initial activities led to the formation of a Local Group for Rural Development with representatives from all parts of the community. This group carried out extensive participatory research with local inhabitants from which specific proposals for intervention were developed. This model has since extended to other parts of Serbia, with groups of municipalities combining to form regional rural development groups.
Ivica Sivrić from the Regional Development Agency for Herzegovina (REDAH) gave an insight into the ways in which local government and the private sector can cooperate to stimulate rural economic and social development. These range from promotion, marketing and the creation of a favourable business environment, to training in specific technical areas and provision of advisory services to small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).
Throughout the conference there was lively discussion and questioning of the speakers. Topics included the relationships between government and non-government organizations in WB, the gap between high level policy ambitions and the experience of people in rural areas, and the need for professionals working to support rural development to have the necessary competencies.
In closing the conference, Chris Garforth commented that the papers and the discussion show there is a lot of good experience and good practice already happening in the field of rural development in the region, and a recognition of the importance of competent professionals to work in this field.Professor Hamid Custovic on behalf of the host institution was pleased to see a good turnout at the conference and emphasized the importance of preserving the beauty of the rural landscape while encouraging a diversification of economic activities that can sustain rural communities.
Copies of the speakers’ presentations are on the WBREN website at
Agricultural University of Tirana announced the call for enrollment of new applicants of the MA in Rural Development and Sustainable Environment.
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