Translation by Tomi Leivo.
One of the hot topics in foresight is the countryside. What will be grown on farms in the future? How will it be grown? Will the countryside remain as a place of residence? Will there be businesses? Where will the energy come from? Challenged by globalisation, the European countryside is finding its place, with agriculture being only one factor in the puzzle. Those making the decisions in regional policy bring up topics such as innovation, competitiveness and utilising local resources. They want the countryside to remain inhabited.
However, it is increasingly difficult for Finns to live in the countryside. Previously, the rural regions have provided food, resources and workforce for growing population centres. Now, the primary production industry is facing a crisis in profitability and the farming industry is suffering from lack of workforce. Migration to the metropolitan area reduces the amount of tax-paying residents with purchasing power in the countryside, resulting in the decline of municipal and commercial services. The distances for conducting everyday business and running errands are getting longer. People feel lonely and isolated. Large cities attract people with their wealth of urban attractions. In the worst case scenario, the countryside is turning into a badly kept agricultural museum.
Such problems have been on the table for years. However, traditional models for solution do not seem to take effect – the countryside continues to decline. Finding a solution for the rural municipalities to provide the necessary services for the elderly is becoming a top priority. How to obtain workforce outside the growth centres? Or should a laissez-faire policy be adopted, and the countryside allowed to decline?
With topics such as the limits of natural resources and sustainable consumption in focus, the Finnish countryside will become important for the nation and the entire world in a new way. Finland has forests, cultivated fields, minerals and fresh water – as well as space and stillness, which are rare commodities on the global level. The sustainable use of natural resources is increasingly important. Perhaps the countryside will give rise to new type of entrepreneurship and new ways of life. Perhaps there will be regions of slow life, promoting their way of life to career professionals who have burned out in the global business game. Perhaps local food producers will bloom together with ecological consciousness. Perhaps remote working will increase.
These questions, among others, are addressed by Sitra’s countryside programme that will be launched during 2010. The preparations for the programme were started during April, 2009. Still lacking an official name, the programme focuses on systematically solving the challenges of the countryside issue by improving business, residential issues and the use of natural resources as a whole. At the same time, the programme addresses the question of the overall role of the countryside in tomorrow’s society.