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New territorial dynamics

Dynamics of rural low density spaces in Portugal

Dynamique des espaces ruraux de basse densité au Portugal
Paulo Carvalho


Rural reality in Europe in general and Portugal in particular is complex and heterogeneous. If, on the one hand, the reduction and ageing of the resident and active population in rural spaces, alongside the lower relevance of agriculture in economy, is a sign of deruralization, on the other hand, there are evidences of some positive dynamics that can mitigate or even counteract (in some cases) the mentioned devitalization process, indicating a new generation of policies and instruments of development.
Thus, this reflection sets out to explain the dynamics that have operated in recent decades in Portuguese rural spaces that have affected agriculture and farmers, as well as the new activities and organizational arrangements of the actors. The latter result from an integrated and territorial view of development that aims to exploit places and landscapes as

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1Development dynamics, based on the diachronic analysis of economic, social and territorial indicators, among others, reveal complex and heterogeneous realities. The application of the terminology used to characterize them is also complex and arises several questions and difficulties.

2In the case of Portugal, the geographic readings about the territorial development model and dynamics emerge recurrently through contrasts or dualisms between center/periphery, coast/inland, urban/rural, push/pull, loser/winner, high/low density, among others, which intend signalling asymmetries in the distribution of the population and its activities, in terms of life level and quality, apart from uneven opportunities of the citizens in the access to public goods and services. Despite recognizing new territorial compositions, architectures or geometries and geographic reconfigurations, they do not hide the different rhythms, senses, actors and goals of the ongoing changes.

3But the reality of territories is far more complex and, above all, translates a sequence of political options, in the scope of planning (regulation instruments of land occupation and use) to development (strategic and sectorial instruments directed to economy, society and territory), largely programed and implemented and a central and European level, from “top to bottom,” without considering the different endogenous specificities and interests that lead to the uneven and asymmetrical situation we know today.

4Therefore being a long-term organizational and structural problem that, in the last four decades, has reached critical levels (Reis, 2017), the low density translates reduced levels (below minimum thresholds) of population and capital (social, landscape, productive and institutional–as pointed by A. Covas & M. Covas, 2013) and of its relations and organization ability (Baptista, 1999), which lead to a “loss of economic, social and symbolic centrality,” a loss that is reflected in the lack of social, economic and institutional “« thickness » necessary to endure development strategies that are supported in time(Ferrão, 2000).

5The accumulated effect of those problems (disqualification, impoverishment, ageing, out-migration, depopulation and abandonment, among others) is obvious in extensive areas of the Portuguese national territory and has a larger expression in the rural context, where the rural policies demonstrate a greater difficulty of intervention.

6Agricultural and/or rural exodus and the non-use of land for agricultural/forestry activities have contributed for the abandonment of those territories and for the dismantling of infrastructures, equipment and basic services essential for populations, compromising the possibility of attracting new capitals and thus assuring the minimum levels of territorial occupation and use.

7To mitigate or solve some of the problems of that “vicious circle” of decline that has been leading to deep changes in the demographic, economic and social structure, and in the form of territorial occupation and use, it is important to create conditions to value the local differentiating characteristics, which include, apart from the agricultural and forestry activities, other ranks of the rural economy such as agribusiness, biological production, tourism, among others, through integrated territorial policies (OECD, 2006; Mc Areavey, 2009; Pemberton & Shaw, 2012; EC, 2015).

8The new conception of rural development is based on the perspective of the diverse functions of agriculture/forestry and of rural territories (Woods, 2007; Dragoi & Balgar, 2013; Brouder et al., 2014), and that diversification of uses and functions means that the relations with the urban are more and more relevant.

9The methodology used in this paper is based, on the one hand, on the review of specialized literature, and on the other, on the collection and processing of official statistical data. Similarly, the author's participation in several national and international projects and initiatives for rural development and field works are also relevant.

2 - Population, Agriculture and Territory

10It is a difficult and complex task to classify or define the urban or rural character of a given territory. This is due partly to the diversity of indicators and scales of analysis that can be used and partly to the problems inherent in the collection and processing of information, particularly in relation to statistical data and their harmonization.

11As mentioned by the Instituto Nacional de Estatística (INE ‑ Portuguese National Statistics Institute),

the approaches for statistical means used in the European Statistical System and the Portuguese National Statistical System, in order to segment the analysis of the territories according to the urbanization intensity, have been centered in the analysis of the populating structure, privileging morphological criteria and, particularly, population density and size, as is the case of the type of INE’s urban areas (TIPAU 2014) applied at the parish level (INE, 2015)

12which has allowed the classification of the Portuguese parishes into three categories: predominantly urban area, moderately urban area and predominantly rural area. These statistics by level of urbanization, assessed in different scales or territorial names, “[…] allow an analytical and descriptive observation of urban and rural areas” (EUROSTAT, 2015a).

13So, in 2011, 72% of the population resided in predominantly urban areas and was distributed in 18% of the Portuguese territory–leading INE to claim that the urbanization rate in Portugal is 72% (INE, 2015).

The remaining parcel of the population was residing in moderately urban areas (15%) and predominantly rural areas (13%). In 2011, the proportion of people residing in predominantly urban areas was higher in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (96%), in Madeira (82%) and in the North area (73%), and the lowest was in the Azores (45%)” (INE, 2015).

14This asymmetrical population distribution in the territory can also be seen through other indicators such as the number and size of places per municipality. In 2011 there were 25,904 settlements under 2,000 inhabitants and only 588 with 2,000 or more inhabitants, corresponding to 97.8% and 2.2% of the total number of places in Portugal. However, when analyzing the resident population, we can see quite a different situation: 3,945,623 (38.0%) and 6,437,871 (62.0%), respectively, meaning that a little over 2% of the total number of locations concentrates over 60% of the Portuguese population.

15On the other hand, in the last census period (2001‑2011) about two thirds of the Portuguese municipalities have lost resident population (topping the value recorded in the previous decade: 171 municipalities), with a special effect in the North, Centre and Alentejo regions (Figure 1). “According to the definitive results of the Census 2011, around 50% of the population is concentrated in 33 [of the 308] of the country’s municipalities” (INE, 2012).

16At the same time, the generalized progression of the ageing index (relation between the elderly population, 64 years old or more, and the younger population, under 15 years old) has continued to compromise the possibilities of demographic revitalization of a growing number of municipalities, especially the ones that are further apart and disconnected from the regional development poles. In fact, since the 1960s, the Portuguese population has aged at a higher rate than the one from the remaining European countries and, presently, the fertility rate is one of the lowest in Europe (Barreto, 2002; EUROSTAT, 2015b).

17In economic terms, the agricultural sector (and the primary sector in general) presents a significant reduction in staff, particularly in the last few decades, happening in parallel with the growth of employment, firstly in the secondary sector (between 1940 and 1980), and afterwards (since the 1980s) in the tertiary sector. In the same sense, it is verified that the economic relevance of agriculture, i.e., the contribution of this sector towards the production of national wealth (measured, for example, through the Gross Domestic Product), has also reduced. If in 1960 the primary sector was responsible for 44% of employment in the active Portuguese population (Barreto, 2002), still in a majority position, half a century after (in 2011), its expression was reduced to only 3% (20% in 1981, 11% in 1991, 5% in 2001) and with a tendency to reduce.

Fig. 1 - Resident population in Portugal (change 2001-2011)

Fig. 1 - Resident population in Portugal (change 2001-2011)

Source: INE (2012).

18C. Cavaco (Cavaco, 2005a) considers that “the evolution of the Portuguese agriculture in the last decades was, however, much more conditioned by external factors, mostly community (Common Agricultural Policy [CPA]) than by internal factors (national agricultural policy)”. These (new) influences are manifested in cultivation, herds, production methods and techniques, farmers’ profiles, commerce system, among others, and lead to more or less significant changes in the agrarian structures and landscapes, according to the regions.

19As for the farm structure, based on the results from the last General Agricultural Census (2009), it is possible to identify the major evolution trends (1999‑2009) as follows: generalized reduction of the number of agricultural holdings (-112,000 compared with 1999, corresponding to -27% in a decade)–the small sized holdings were among those most affected (-41%) and the abandonment of the agricultural activity was more accentuated in “Beira Litoral (38%), in Ribatejo and West Region (36%) and in the Algarve (35%)” (INE, 2010); despite this reduction (meaning -450,000 ha), the agricultural holdings still occupy around half of the Portuguese geographical area; “the average size of agricultural holdings increased 2.5 hectares in terms of the Used Agricultural Surface (SAU), standing at 11.9 hectares” (INE, 2010); the small-sized are still predominant in the land structure, with around 75% of the productive units presenting fewer than 5 hectares of SAU.

20In its turn, the agricultural landscape has changed significantly. “The arable land has recorded a generalized decrease, particularly in the industrial cultures (-67%), potato (- 63%), dried pulses (-49%) and grain cereals (-43%); as a counterpart, there was a relative increase in the areas with fodder crops, as well as vegetables, flowers and outdoor and greenhouse ornamental plants” (INE, 2010). “In the permanent cultures we stress the decrease of 25% of the areas occupied by orchards of dried fruits, 28% of the citrus area and 19% of the vineyard area” (INE, 2010), with a major impact in the West and Ribatejo regions (peach and pear trees), Algarve (orange and almond trees), Trás-os-Montes (apple trees) and Beira Litoral (vineyard). On the other hand, there was also a reduction in the herding of livestock, especially, dairy cattle (Entre Douro e Minho; Beira Litoral), sheep and goats (Beira Litoral), and pigs (West).

21There are still visible signs of corporate investment in the agricultural activity in olive trees (Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes), vineyard (Alentejo [Photograph 1], Ribatejo and Trás-os-Montes), vegetables (Ribatejo and West), fruit trees (Beira Interior, cherry; Entre Douro e Minho: kiwi), cattle farming (Alentejo), chestnut tree (Trás-os-Montes), apart from the growth of surface areas planted with forest species for ligneous material production, especially the eucalyptus (Beiras), among others.

Photograph 1 - New vineyard (in the foreground) and olive grove (in the background) near Beja (Alentejo Region)

Photograph 1 - New vineyard (in the foreground) and olive grove (in the background) near Beja (Alentejo Region)

Source: Photo, P. Carvalho, 2016.

22Regarding the farmer’s characteristics, the “standard agricultural producer is a male, 63 years old, has only completed the 1st cycle of basic teaching, exclusively practical agricultural training and works in the agricultural activities in the holding around 22 hours per week. The household comprehends three individuals and the income comes mostly from pensions” (INE, 2010). In 2009 there were around 7 thousand agricultural companies (only 2% of the agricultural holdings, but responsible for 25% of the SAU exploitation), and in this case the average age of the holding’s leader is 50 years old, around 40% have higher education and employ 2/3 of the paid labor with regular occupation (i.e., around 30 000 people). On the other hand, “only 6% of the producers obtain income exclusively from the activity of their agricultural holding” (INE, 2010) and almost 65% of agricultural producers declared to receive pensions.

23These general trends do not reflect significant changes at least regarding the previous period (1989-1999), given that the number of agricultural holdings has decreased by 30.5% (reaching about 416,000, i.e., -189,000 compared with 1989), particularly in the regions of Entre Douro e Minho, Ribatejo and West, Madeira and Beira Litoral and with a larger prevalence among the smaller units (Moreno, 2005a); the agricultural population has aged. “In 1999 around ¼ was 65 years old or more, against 16.8% in 1989(Cavaco, 2005b), and still has a low level of education (almost 70% were illiterate or had only the first cycle of basic teaching); the producers are predominantly elderly people (more than 2/3 of agricultural holdings were led, in 1999, by singular elderly producers, 55 years old or more), with low levels of instruction and “essentially practical professional training(Cavaco, 2005b); the agricultural structures remain dominated by small and very small agricultural holdings (almost 80% presented fewer than 5 ha, in 1999); the average SAU went “from 6.7 to 9.3 ha between 1989 and 2009, meaning an increase of 38.8%” (Moreno, 2005a); considerable reduction of the yearly or temporary cultures in the scope of the use of arable lands, particularly in the regions of Entre Douro e Minho, Beira Litoral and Algarve; growing of permanent pastures (Moreno, 2005a).

24As a closure of this topic, it is important to mention that the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture and Sea (MAM), based on the diagnosis of rural development in Portugal in the period 2000‑2012, recognizes the diversity of the agricultural fabric, in regional, size and production terms, through two major types of agriculture, namely:

“A more professionalized agriculture, with productivity similar to the remainder of economy”, using, in general, in larger scale paid workforce, “that is essentially of large and average economic dimension and more specialized. Being responsible for most of the production, occupies most of the SAU and represents a more reduced number of farmers”. (MAM, 2015:9)

“A familiar agriculture, associated to agricultural holdings of reduced physical dimension and small and very small economic dimension–low specialization or non-specialized – frequently characterized by multiple activities and multiple incomes of the households […]”. It is present particularly in the North, Centre and Algarve regions, “corresponds to the majority of farmers, but has also a smaller importance in terms of production value and SAU proportion”. (MAM, 2015)

25Its relative contributions are differentiated according to its characteristics: if the first ones are very relevant in terms of economic competitiveness, the last ones are fundamental in a perspective of sustainable management of natural resources, of human occupation and landscapes, apart from the offer of agricultural goods.

3 - Rural Multifunctionality or Multidimensionality

26Despite the general decline of the population and of the agricultural activity, in the last three decades (period that coincides with the integration of Portugal in the European Union), several initiatives of enormous relevance for the rural space have emerged, which reflect, on the one hand, new conceptions of development, through territorialized policies and instruments and, on the other hand, social, economic and cultural changes, in the genesis of the post-modern claim of rural spaces as new geographic choices of leisure and tourism.

27The perspectives and interventions of the European Union in the scope of the rural world reflect the transition from an agricultural conception, centered on agriculture and directed towards farmers and their organizations, coinciding with a period of pronounced economic, social and demographic weakening and devitalization of a significant part of the rural world, to a post-agricultural conception founded in the valuing of new activities as a backbone of the renovation and viability of the rural world that, in its turn, follows the reinforced interest in rural territories from the urban population. The latter, of territorial character, guided towards the territory and for the set of the urban population, considers that the agricultural policy should be integrated in the frame of a policy of rural development that thrusts the diversification of activities and provides rural territories with enough infrastructures and equipment so that the population is maintained in these rural spaces in decent conditions (Moyano Estrada, 2006).

28The Community Initiative Program LEADER (Portuguese acronym for Link between Actions for the Development of Rural Economy) constitutes a pioneer approach in this domain and is a key tool for the rural world’s development policy from an ascending methodology and from a set of interventions with a deep territorial component (Plaza Gutiérrez, 2006)–apart from an integrated and participatory approach.

29In the operational plan, the main innovation of LEADER is the territorial programming and management (“intervention areas” that correspond to a subregion scale) based on partnerships (“local action groups”) among several agents of local development, as municipalities, cultural and social associations, professional or sectorial associations, companies or even private individuals, although with a regulatory framework and community and national public co-funding.

30The implementation of LEADER in Portugal began in 1991 (Figure 2), with the participation of 20 “local action groups,” resulting in “a total over to 2000 projects divided by several theme areas, although rural tourism had taken the spotlight: 46% of the projects and 56% of the approved investment” (Carvalho, 2009).

Fig. 2 - The LEADER initiative in Portugal (1991-2013)

Fig. 2 - The LEADER initiative in Portugal (1991-2013)

Local entities.

Source: Adapted from Moreno (2007).

31The second stage of the program (with the name LEADER II, 1994-1999) has translated the deepening, generalization and financial reinforcement of this initiative, in which over 48 local entities have taken part (including the Atlantic Islands) and more than 7,000 projects were approved, in a total investment of almost 220 million euros (Carvalho, 2009).

In the period 2000-2006, LEADER+ added little given that there are 52 association organizations that promote DL [local development] in 80% of the national territory (Moreno, 2005b).

32Based on the annual execution reports, until December 31, 2006, LEADER+ had approved 6,574 projects (91% regarding vector 1. Integrated strategies of development and of a pilot nature and 9% affected to vector 2. Support to the cooperation between rural territories) for a total approved investment of 258,594,683 euros (95% referring to vector 1. and 5% to vector 2.) with an average of 126.4 projects per local entity and 39,336 euros of average financial dimension per project (Carvalho & Silva, 2007).

33The approval of FEADER (Portuguese acronym for European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development) and its application in the 2007-2013 period, with three theme axis of acting/fundamental goals (increase in competitiveness of agriculture and forestry; improvement of the environment and rural landscape; promotion of quality of life in rural areas and diversification of the economic activity in the set of rural spaces) has come to institutionalize rural development as an integrated political dimension and solidify the LEADER approach, that since then is being used as a method/work tool, namely for the implementation of measures related with the quality of life and rural economic diversification.

34Secondly, the intention to balance the agricultural practice with the environmental and landscaping concerns, of preserving and valuing the landscape and the diversity of heritage (natural and cultural), i.e., the “environmental, cultural/societal, economic, technological diversification(Moreno, 2005b) has paved the way to new development opportunities in rural context, with emphasis to leisure and tourism (Photograph 2).

Photograph 2 - Reconversion of the former railway station of Farminhão

Photograph 2 - Reconversion of the former railway station of Farminhão

With the support of PRODER (Mainland Rural Development Program, 2007-2013), to integrate the Greenway of Dão (Centre Region).

Source: Photo, P. Carvalho, 2016.

35Effectively, they stand out in the last few years, as a rapid growth phenomenon and are one of the complementary ways that are intended to be encouraged aiming to stimulate and revitalize rural territories (Butler, Hall & Jenkins, 1998; Sharpley, 2003) through a broad set of instruments beyond the agricultural/rural sector, which translate a certain convergence at the level of strategic vision of development centered in the relevance of the territorial dimension.

36The accommodations and the complementary activities of tourism in a rural space materialize two of the most visible dimensions of that interest. Despite the difficulties at the level of collection and processing of statistical information, we can state that the offer of tourism in rural space has had a significant growth, over the last three decades, throughout the whole country and especially in the North, Centre and Alentejo regions.

37Originated in guest-houses (that is, the older real estate of higher historical and heritage value, like palaces and mansions) in the second half of the 1970s, rural tourism has endured a general growth process (number and accommodation capacity) and widening (new categories and territories) of its offer.


rural tourism enterprises are those establishments designed to provide, in rural spaces, accommodation services for tourists while preserving, restoring and valuing the architectural, historical, natural and landscape heritage of the localities and regions where they are located through the reconstruction, rehabilitation or expansion of existing constructions, in order to secure their integration in the environment” (article 18th, no. 1 of the Portuguese Decree-Law no. 186/2015, from September 3rd).

39It can be classified in the following groups: country houses (village tourism when there are more than five accommodation units with joint management); agritourism; rural hotels, corresponding, essentially, to the types approved in 2008 when the Portuguese Decree-Law no. 39/2008 (which established the new legal regime of tourism developments) reduced the modes of rural space tourism (stopped considering rural tourism and rural camping) and recognized guest-houses as an autonomous category of tourism development (that can be located in rural or urban spaces).

40According to C. Cavaco (Cavaco, 1999), in “1985 there were 121 units with a capacity of 939 beds and in 1989 there were 197 units and 1,567 beds (+62.8% and +69%, respectively; 0.5% of the global accommodation capacity)”.

41In the period from 1990 to 2000, the number of establishments grew from 216 to 668 (corresponding to 6,293 beds), respectively, considering that in 1996 the number was 493 (and 1,713 beds). Such a change reflects the support received by this sector from public policies through several programs (the already mentioned LEADER I and II, among others), using the financial support from the European Union, through structural funds, and the dynamics of particular operators (Carvalho, 2009).

42In 31.12.2011, according to the Portuguese National Statistics Institute, 1,188 rural tourism and guest-houses were operational in Portugal, with a total of 13,293 beds. The North (41.8%), Centre (22.1%) and Alentejo (17.2%) regions concentrated around 80% of this segment’s offer.

43The last published data, both by the Tourist Office of Portugal and for the Portuguese National Statistics Institute, with reference to 2013 and 2014, indicate a reduction in the number of establishments, but a stabilization of the accommodation capacity in rural tourism and guest-houses, which can be explained in the context of the application of new concepts and procedures in terms of legislation about tourism developments. Crossing these results allows admitting that rural tourism and guest-houses represent about 25% of the total of establishments and 3% of the number of beds in Portugal.

44On the other hand, the growing use of rural spaces for tourism reflects the increase of new segments, namely in the context of cultural tourism and nature tourism, which stand out of the main conventional forms of tourism due to their eco-centric dimension related to education, personal development and other intrinsic values generating motivation to travel (Richards & Wilson, 2007; Fennel, 2008; Wearing & Neil, 2009; Coghlan & Buckley, 2013). Wine tourism (Getz & Brown, 2006; Mitchell, Charsters & Albrecht, 2012), walking/hiking (Kouchner & Lyard, 2001; Midmore, 2010; Hall, Ram & Shoval, 2017) and cycling (Lamont, 2009; Han, Meng & Kim, 2017) are prime examples. The changes happen at the level of tourist behavior: participating, valuing experiences of great symbolic value, and contributing towards the sustainability of the destination, are relevant activities that explain the rise of concerns in terms of access, innovation, creativity, solidarity and sustainability.

45It is in this context that heritage and its use takes relevance as a tourism asset. The integration of the heritage resource in value chains, the need to find a scale to facilitate investments in

46of articulation, integration, cooperation and partnership between different entities, and portrait material and immaterial realities of heritage as prehistoric art (Vale do Côa), contraband (Minho, Trás-os-Montes, Beira Interior), wines (Douro, Alentejo, West), the bull and the horse (Ribatejo), the Romanesque (Vale do Sousa), the Ways of Santiago (Centre and North regions) or transhumance (Serra da Estrela), among others. They can also assume relevance in the context of nature tourism, with particular incidence in the areas with national and/or international protection status, as it is the case of pedestrianism (Photograph 3).

Photograph 3 - Walking paths near the Vilarinho da Furna Dam in Peneda-Gerês National Park (Northern Region)

Photograph 3 - Walking paths near the Vilarinho da Furna Dam in Peneda-Gerês National Park (Northern Region)

Source: Photo, P. Carvalho, 2015.

47The networks intend to associate territories and spaces with affinities (natural and/or cultural), recurrently in the context of policies, programs and public initiatives (or State supported), in the sense of attracting investment and fixating assets, according to the local and regional development concerns, as it is the case in the Historical Villages (Beira Interior, Centre region), Schist Villages (Pinhal Interior, Centre region), Douro Wine Producing Villages, Water Villages (Alqueva, Alentejo), among others.

48In the case of Historical Villages and Schist Villages (Figure 3), there are innovative tourism products, which were planned and implemented with the support of several programs (national and regional) from 1994 and 2000, respectively, that today integrate almost forty places, where were invested more than 80 million euros, and benefit from participated management (with own institutional actors). The differentiating element of the Historical Villages (twelve locations) is the military heritage (castles, walls, fortifications), which served as an inspiration to the process of valuing places that, generally, had a relevant role in the consolidation of the border line and in the country’s independence regarding Spain. The Schist Villages (twenty-seven locations) are micro territories in mountain context, dominated by the vernacular built heritage and by the natural context that expresses its cultural landscapes.

Figure 3 - Historical Villages and Schist Villages (Centre Region of Portugal)

Figure 3 - Historical Villages and Schist Villages (Centre Region of Portugal)

Simplified location map.

Source: Author.

49Among the distinctive features of those interventions valuing the specificities of territories and intending to induce positive dynamics, one can find: the integration of the economic, social and heritage goals in structuring and implementing support programs; the creation of new tourism brands and products; the production of knowledge and disclosure of locations; the articulation, cooperation and partnerships among territories and agents; the requalification of assets, sets and locations of high heritage value; the guided incentives to new economic activities linked to the endogenous resources, as tourism accommodation (Photograph 4), tourism entertainment, restaurants, handcraft; capture and fixation of new residents and economic agents; the creation of new institutional actors; the improvement of private real estate housing conditions; new equipment and infrastructures for outdoor activities as nature walks, bike riding, climbing, trail running, among others; the organization of events, of several types and scales, as fundamental activities to assert and renew tourism destinations.

Photograph 4 - Rural hotel of the INATEL Foundation, in Linhares da Beira (Historic Village of Portugal)

Photograph 4 - Rural hotel of the INATEL Foundation, in Linhares da Beira (Historic Village of Portugal)

Source: Photo, P. Carvalho, 2014.


50The content sequence of this narrative, according to a diachronic and scale integration perspective, has emphasized processes of change in the Portuguese rural space in the last few decades, firstly through dynamics in terms of population, agriculture and farmers and, secondly, through the national implementation of new rural development tools (in the scope from PIC LEADER to FEADER), which coincides, in a certain way, with the Portuguese EU membership, and the rural development integrated interventions in the alignment of territorialized instruments connected to the new heritage and rural tourism leisure.

51The Portuguese rural reality, despite its internal diversity and some specificities (such as patterns of specialization, productive system, amenities), also presents common traces in the context of the European Union.

52The last half-century is branded with big changes in the areas of demography, economy, landholding structure, agricultural holdings and rural landscape. These are some of the major transformations witnessed in rural communities, who have raised reading that range from the decline and revitalization (Baptista, 2006) to the renovation impulses resulting from the multifunctionality and its contribution towards “increasing the diversity and reducing disparity (Covas, 2007).

53On the one hand, the reduction and the ageing of the population residing in rural spaces is clear as well as: the workforce reduction in the agricultural (and forestry) sector; the decrease of the economic contribution of agriculture (and forestry) in the gross domestic product and employment; the abandonment of landscapes and places as a result of the agricultural (and rural) exodus and the non-use of land for production purposes.

54On the other hand, there are unequivocal signs of a new conception of development in the rural context, with the acknowledgement of the role of local development associations and the support, in multiple community frameworks, of thousands of projects, in areas as diverse as, for example, natural and cultural heritage, or the social and cultural equipment, aiming to diversify the economy of rural areas, improve the population’s life quality, use new knowledge and technologies and to value the natural and cultural resources.

55This evolution framework translates the transition of an oriented model for the agricultural sector towards a model centered on rural multifunctionality, with the growing development of new resources and a larger (inter)dependency of the urban society, opening way to new territorial uses.

56In the programming period 2014-2020, the vision for agriculture and rural tourism

will have as determinant principles the concentration of the supports in the sector and in the production of negotiable assets addressed to agents directly involved in the creation of value from agroforestry activities. (MAM, 2015)

57However, the reduction of ACP financing, and specifically the one aimed at the second pillar, apart from the restrictions to public investment that come from the economic crisis and the new architecture of operation instruments, raises doubts and places real problems to the rural development policy as mentioned in the Declaration of Palencia (2014, available in the Sociedade Portuguesa de Estudos Rurais [Portuguese Society of Rural Studies] website).

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1 - Resident population in Portugal (change 2001-2011)
Credits Source: INE (2012).
File image/jpeg, 480k
Title Photograph 1 - New vineyard (in the foreground) and olive grove (in the background) near Beja (Alentejo Region)
Credits Source: Photo, P. Carvalho, 2016.
File image/jpeg, 788k
Title Fig. 2 - The LEADER initiative in Portugal (1991-2013)
Caption Local entities.
Credits Source: Adapted from Moreno (2007).
File image/jpeg, 840k
Title Photograph 2 - Reconversion of the former railway station of Farminhão
Credits With the support of PRODER (Mainland Rural Development Program, 2007-2013), to integrate the Greenway of Dão (Centre Region).
File image/jpeg, 964k
Title Photograph 3 - Walking paths near the Vilarinho da Furna Dam in Peneda-Gerês National Park (Northern Region)
Credits Source: Photo, P. Carvalho, 2015.
File image/jpeg, 612k
Title Figure 3 - Historical Villages and Schist Villages (Centre Region of Portugal)
Caption Simplified location map.
Credits Source: Author.
File image/jpeg, 368k
Title Photograph 4 - Rural hotel of the INATEL Foundation, in Linhares da Beira (Historic Village of Portugal)
Credits Source: Photo, P. Carvalho, 2014.
File image/jpeg, 668k
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Electronic reference

Paulo Carvalho, « Dynamics of rural low density spaces in Portugal », Méditerranée [Online], 130 | 2018, Online since 28 November 2018, connection on 02 July 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Paulo Carvalho

CEGOT (Centre of Studies on Geography and Spatial Planning), University of Coimbra (Portugal),

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Tous droits réservés

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