In current scientific and political discourses there is common agreement that the future of Alpine agriculture is a challenge not only for farmers, but also for society at large. What remains unclear is the question of how to adapt agriculture towards sustainable development of the Alpine territory in a manner that takes sufficient account of local diversity. The authors propose to treat agriculture and rural development as a matter of local concern, starting with a definition of sustainable agriculture drawn up by local stakeholders. Based on a three-year experiment, they examine the capacity of local people to take joint action to contribute in a consistent way to rural development and to sustainable agriculture. They discuss the assets and limitations of local projects based on multi-stakeholder participation, ie in relation to their capacity to initiate closer links between farmers and other stakeholders and renew the contribution of agriculture to rural development. Their paper highlights two main points: first, how social dynamics are initiated and how farmers and other actors take joint action towards sustainable development; second, the authors analyse the impact of such local projects on agriculture and rural development and the counterbalancing effects of global factors, including market trends and related policies. Finally, the authors discuss the consequences of their results for policies targeting sustainable rural development.