Why the Rural Environment Holds the Key to Sustainability in Europe

40% of the surface area of the European Union corresponds to agricultural land, which in relative terms houses 58% of the population and contributes 56% of employment. 10 million people are dedicated to the sector full time.

Europe shelters the country that is ranked 201 according to its population density. This is Finland, where the average is 18 people for each square kilometer, which reflects the depopulation suffered by the rural environment in this Nordic country.

To prevent the most depopulated areas from disappearing from the map, there are more than 4,000 local associations that work to highlight the potential and importance of these areas. In fact, the five products that Finland exports the most are diesel, paper, automobiles, sheet metal and wood, most of them closely related to agriculture.

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The dependence of the rural world on the whole of the European Union (EU) is also significant. 40% of the EU area corresponds to agricultural land, while about ten million (9.5 million) people work in that sector full time, although that figure has been reduced by 25% in ten years.

In this context, there is a concern of different actors for the lack of attractiveness and opportunities facing these territories that constitute the basis and sustenance of European self-sufficiency. One of them is the aging of the population of those places. Only 11% of agricultural workers are under 40 years old.

Europe and the potential of rural areas

The Committee of the Regions, in the words of GuillaumeCros, explained in a forum in Brussels that the cornering of policies aimed at rural areas "can undermine or even compromise the autonomy of European regions."

It is a point shared by the Finnish organization SuomenKylat, who believes that challenges such as the rural exodus can be stopped by investing in modernizing these areas, implementing and extending digital infrastructures.

Likewise, Peter Welch of the European Court of Auditors considers that it is necessary to improve the information about the advantages and potential of renewable energy projects.

From the Portuguese Federation of Local Development Associations observe a similar dynamic. "All territories can make a great contribution to growth," explains Maria João Botelho, president of the association. However, it links that potential to the possibilities of "managing resources in a sustainable manner" and of "empowering communities".