Agricultural, quality agro-food, supply-chain and rural districts (DAs) were introduced by Italian law in 2001. With reference to European structural policies, especially rural development policy, and to the districts’ originality and relationship to the LEADER method and programmes, we wonder whether they can still form a useful part of the new 2014-2020 programming period? The question is analysed in the wider context of international literature on socio-economic and economic policy, so as to stimulate broader interest, with a view to the future. A survey on national scale is presented, limited to the districts legally recognised by the Regions. A detailed historical reconstruction is given, offering a ‘reconstructive reading’ through which we clarify the actual nature of these districts, including their connections to clusters and industrial districts. We also discuss how to better link the theoretical and the legal frameworks. And we examine the connection between the basic economic mechanisms of the district theory and how the Regions have implemented them in reality. To do this, we summarised the overall conceptual framework into a few basic components for our desk research. This has led to development of a new methodological definition of districts in agriculture, in order to reach some conclusions of general validity. So on the possible future use and utility of Das, the chances for the coming years are linked to different scenarios, whether the main purpose is either enhancing competitiveness of strategic supply chains or reinforcing weak and marginal rural systems. In the first scenario, the ‘bundle’ of the co-operation measure might be addressed to DAs: constituting new clusters and networks for the wide range of aims covered by the law; referring to supported implementation by groups of public and private partners of local development strategies. In the second scenario, assimilating DAs and LAGs indicated for developing and implementing multi-fund local strategies (CLLD) might be possible. Both depend on whether DAs emerge as an example of stable organisation of the local economy and good governance in each Region’s evaluation.
Daniela Toccaceli, Università di Firenze (firstname.lastname@example.org)