Does Rural Development Need New Thinking?

The recent Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020 consultation paper launched by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA focuses on the need to support the agri-food industry. It complements the Europe 2020 strategic objectives of smart growth to ensure the competitiveness of agriculture and the food industry; sustainable growth to manage natural resources; and inclusive growth to ensure the balanced development of rural areas.

The Minister’s consultation paper underlines the need for greater innovation, food chain management, enhanced ecosystems, low carbon emissions and economic development in rural areas, not least to address poverty and social inclusion.

The provision of skills such as peer learning, knowledge transfer and innovation is highlighted as a key action to ensure the success of the agri-food sector.
Similarly, the promotion of economic development in relation to rural businesses and rural tourism is seen as vital to the development of rural areas.

The proposed measures make sense and will help address the challenges faced by individuals, businesses and organisations involved in the agri-food sector.

However, there is a need for the strategy to break new ground and invest in the development of new skills and new industries to ensure the long-term sustainability of rural areas and not just agri-businesses within those areas.

Rural families face many challenges and traditional skills and knowledge focussed solely on agriculture will not be sufficient to sustain communities. A broader range of thinking is needed to ensure the viability and survival of rural areas. Such thinking needs to include:

  • creating new jobs and industries, not least because the agri-food sector will not provide sufficient jobs for all those who live in rural areas
  • research and development in the innovative use of technology to collect and analyse data to create new products and services within rural areas
  • the collection and analysis of information on the skills and numbers of people leaving rural areas to work elsewhere, as a way to build a case for investment

Rural development like so many parts of the economy is at a crucial stage and the thinking that emerges from the consultation process needs to embrace new ideas.

SO, a strategy to increase the competitiveness of the agri-food sector is welcome but not sufficient, as new thinking is needed to ensure a future for all those living in rural areas.

What do you think?

Does rural development need new thinking?

Look forward to seeing your comments below.