This is the second of Lee’s blog’s, the first can be found here.
- Conflicts of interest between farming and environmental conservation, the provision of social/leisure facilities and economic diversification
- Participation by local people in local democracy and decision making
- Poor infrastructure away from the main cities
- Inability to retain young people in rural communities
The most interesting point for me was that in the Netherlands, if you live more than 40km from a big town or city, you are considered “remote” and the big infrastructure issues focus on broadband (lack of market interest to provide in rural areas – where have we heard this before) and public transport, where some communities have limited connectivity (but always some) to the main service centres. The challenges of building in a flat, watery country are very different from an upland and island nation; but they are no less challenging in some ways.
The Dutch delegate also outlined some possible solutions and one really caught my eye. The Dutch government has devolved budget and responsibility to the municipality level (sometimes as small as 10k people) for healthcare. This is based on the belief that they are best placed to decide what their local community needs, and how best to deliver it. One service they now provide is “Care Farms” where people suffering from poor mental wellbeing, or who have mental health issues can refer themselves (and in some cases be referred by a health professional). The clients are paired up with a local farm and are given the chance to work in the outdoors with animals and crops, overseen by the farm manager and a qualified health care professional. The belief is that working in the outdoors improves mental wellbeing and health, allows the client to continue to earn a wage, and also provides an alternative source of labour for family farms.
The delegate from Belgium was from near Gent in Flanders. He suggested the big issues there are:
- Infrastructure is under strain as people seek to commute to urban centres
- Villages lack opportunities for young people and this has a knock on effect for the provision and sustainability of public services
In Croatia, the country is often split into two main zones: coastal; and continental. In the coastal area there are problems of reliance on tourism for income, the seasonality of jobs, affordability of housing and facilities and the loss of young people to Germany and Austria in particular. In the continental area the problems are similar, but the issue of land value is the opposite. Land is pretty cheap, but this makes it difficult to access finance as the farmers in particular find that they have insufficient assets to secure a loan.
The Estonian delegate talked about the challenges facing the country since the collapse of communism and the privatisation of what had previously been communal assets. The biggest issue was around forests, with private owners clear felling areas to make profit (the state is apparently better at replanting). This is having a large impact on local culture and society as Estonians have a real affinity with their natural woodlands and the ability to supplement diet with picking fruits and mushrooms from these areas. Plantations tend to be quick growing monocultures, which do not provide this social amenity.