In 2020 north-west Europe will be one huge metropolis with no countryside, just recreational parks between cities, Eastern Europe will be flooded with the large-scale farmers that used to farm in western Europe, and villages in Southern Europe will be ghost towns as all farmers will have left for the city.
“Compared to the exodus in China from the countryside to cities – 100 million people – we don’t really have a problem here,” joked Professor John Bryden of the University of Aberdeen, one of the speakers at the conference. He added that there are plenty of opportunities for farmers to broaden their activities, for example through tourism, energy cropping and landscape management. “It is not all gloom, but rural people need to grasp the chances that are there.” This requires that rural people are given more power through local government, Bryden argued. But European policy also should leave more room for local initiatives.
Most participants shared Bryden’s opinion. A majority agreed with the proposition that EU policy is killing local markets, while these local markets are the drivers of rural development. These and other propositions were debated using ‘mind mapping’, a computer programme that visualises a discussion. Using this technique, it became clear that almost all those present wanted local people to be empowered so that they have a say in new ways of dealing with rural development and the countryside. The one voice heard from the audience that argued that scientists have better knowledge of the future of the countryside than farmers, and it should thus be left to them to inform policy, was a lonely voice; and it was laughed off by most of the pro-farmer audience.