Working Group 1: Diversification of economic activities in rural areas through tourism
To develop rural tourism, relevant authorities should enable cross border cooperation, Area-Based Development (ABD), trade facilitation and easing border crossing to result in regional tourism products of the Western Balkans. Rural areas should be jointly promoted as green, attractive, safe and secure travel destinations. A functional waste management system must be put in place. Capacity building initiatives should support the increase of ICT use and inclusion of territorial products in the tourism offer. Tourism support policies and territorial planning should be implemented coherently and following an evidence-based approach at the central and local level. Tourism development should follow the principle “value over volume”. Policies and regulations should encourage short supply chains and the provision of local and traditional products. The categorization of rural accommodation facilities should be harmonized. The Forum calls for stable and long term financial and technical support to improve rural infrastructure, education, and the quality of services. Revenues from tourist taxes should be used locally to address diverse problems in rural areas. Destination management should be an obligatory function of municipal bodies and institutions in charge of supporting tourism locally.
Working Group 2: Sustainable grape and wine in the Western Balkans
The Forum confirmed that the wine sector shall contribute to achieving general economic and environmental goals. Improving competitiveness and reducing the environmental impact of the wineries should be the highest priority for the WB. Efficient management of energy and natural resources such as soil and water remain key factors for sustainable development. The wine sector continues to aim at high-quality wine. Furthermore, access to research, innovation and knowledge encourages wineries to improve their grape and wine production. Raising awareness on the major challenges for integrating sustainable grape and wine production in the Western Balkans, including its linkage with rural tourism, is the first step ahead. Promotion and information campaigns are needed.
Working Group 3: The LEADER approach in the Western Balkans
The Forum recognizes LEADER as a strong instrument to activate local democracy. Leader measures under the IPARD III program should contribute to the improvement of the socio-economic life of the local community, the improvement of public spaces, environmental standards in LAG’s areas and promotion of renewable energy use by the local community. The communication with the relevant authorities and stakeholders should be improved to accelerate the process of accreditation of the LEADER measure. The Balkan Rural Development Network and national rural development networks should articulate their positions to national ministries and EU institutions. Networking among Local Action Groups (LAGs) should be enhanced through the national rural networks. To sustain the enthusiasm of the LAGs and strengthen their capacities, national schemes should complement IPARD (LEADER-like measures). Technical Assistance IPARD measure should support potential LAG’s to be ready to apply for the LEADER approach. The roadmaps to LEADER – a straightforward action plan for implementation of LEADER in each WB country should be followed on three levels: institutional, national rural development network members, and LAGs. The Forum recommends that besides the existing IPARD beneficiary countries, all other WB countries should be included for support through the IPARD.
Working Group 4: Agricultural knowledge and innovation systems in the Western Balkans
The Forum emphasize the importance of fully establishing Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems in the Western Balkans based on national action plans, incorporated and integrated into the national strategies for agriculture and rural development and coordinated at the regional level. Immediate action is needed to strengthen the cooperation and interaction between policymakers, farmer-based organizations, the private sector, education, research and extension services. The Forum strongly advises the national authorities in the WB to consider the implementation of the proposed IPARD measure “Cooperation for Innovation and Knowledge Transfer”. Agri-food Centers of Innovation and Entrepreneurship should be established, while internet broadband connectivity in rural areas needs to be enhanced to facilitate digitalization.