By Ewan Pate and Lauren Dean.
Contribution of rural areas must be recognised and supported as engines of national prosperity.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Rural Development Conference in Edinburgh heard rural communities should be championed for their social, environmental and economic wellbeing as well as job creation and service delivery.
Head of OECD’s regional and rural policy unit, Jose Enrique Garcilazo, said rural areas were ‘places of growth, opportunity and inspiration’.
“Yet rural is still not central to government policy,” he said. “They are best placed to develop new energy sources, to help sustain our natural environment and to ensure food security.
“In an increasingly interconnected world, opportunities are emerging to promote rural prosperity.”
Mr Garcilazo called on the Government to enhance policies towards innovation and digitalisation in rural areas with 10 key drivers of change, including additive manufacturing, decentralised energy systems, digital connectivity, the future of health, shifting values and preferences, drones and driverless cars.
It came as EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan made clear innovation and research were to be at the heart of the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), telling delegates the new policy, which will run from 2020 to 2027, would strengthen the role of the advisory services to make research results more readily available.
Mr Hogan said: “On average, 20 years separate the start of a research project and its application in agriculture.
“Therefore, we need to start developing today the new knowledge we will need in five, 10 or 20 years’ time.
“The CAP supports the roll out of innovative agri-tech solutions under EU rural development policy; providing targeted investments, knowledge transfer, advice and cooperation projects to develop new products, processes and technologies.”
Former MEP Lord Ian Duncan argued people in rural areas deserved the same connectivity infrastructure as the urban population.
“Brexit will create a new way of thinking about rural policy, local tailored solutions,” he added. “Scottish Government will be able to innovate in lots of areas.
“We have a demographic timebomb. We need to find a way to keep people especially the young workforce in rural places.”