What is IMPACT?

The European countryside is changing rapidly. In many regions agriculture has lost its central role in the rural economy. Many farm households supplement their incomes with other activities and employment opportunities in agriculture are continually diminishing. Changing agricultural practices (intensification in some areas, abandonment in others) place valued landscapes, habitats and cultural traditions under threat.

Many farmers and other rural entrepreneurs are exploring new ways of using their resources to counter these problems. Innovative activities such as agri-tourism, quality production, nature & landscape management or organic farming are emerging as responses to the ongoing cost/price squeeze in 'productivist' agriculture. Local development agencies, national governments and the EU are developing policies designed to support (and sometimes regulate) these new activities.

This, then, is the new emerging Rural Development (RD) paradigm. It is widely recognised that there is growing involvement in these activities but, often, they are quite fragmented both geographically and institutionally. Thus to date, no general overview of the diversity and significance of RD activities has been available. The IMPACT programme (full title: The Socio-economic Impact of Rural Development Policies: Realities & Potentials) aims to fill this gap. More specifically the IMPACT programme has four key objectives:

• To analyse the rich diversity of RD practices of farmers in 6 EU countries
• To assess the impact of RD practices, in terms of incomes, employment and sustainability
• To analyse the effectiveness of government policies that influence RD
• To elaborate proposals for appropriate policies that will foster the potentials of RD.