In this National Rural Network Farm Viability and Competitiveness guest blog, Dr Aisling Murtagh, RURALIZATION Postdoctoral Researcher in the Discipline of Geography’s Rural Studies Unit at NUI Galway and Dr Maura Farrell, Lecturer in the Discipline of Geography at NUI Galway and RURALIZATION Principal Investigator, provide us with an insightful overview of the four-year, €5.9 million RURALIZATION Horizon 2020 project which is exploring innovative ways of overcoming issues of rural decline, as well as supporting rural regeneration and generational renewal.

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Urbanisation is a dominant trend that sees increasing population movement away from rural areas and towards cities. This trend is also driven by declining rural and growing urban economies and job opportunities. The RURALIZATION project has been set up to look at how to create a counterforce to urbanisation, where the rural is regenerated, providing opportunities for new generations to stay, return or move to rural areas. Funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the RURALIZATION project will generate new knowledge to support policy and practice that enables this counterforce of ‘ruralisation’.

The RURALIZATION project is exploring innovative ways to overcome issues of rural decline, support rural regeneration and generational renewal. But how can more opportunities for new generations be created in rural areas? The project looks at this from a number of different angles.

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When concerned with renewing the rural economy, farming is a crucial area of focus. It is not just a source of rural jobs, but also a key part of the rural environment, landscape and culture. RURALIZATION has a strong focus on farming to understand how to facilitate new entrants and successors into farming. These new generations face many, diverse challenges in creating a sustainable livelihood, including building a viable farm business and harnessing innovation to support future development. Existing research has suggested access to farmland is the greatest challenge facing new generations of farmers. RURALIZATION is working to identify, assess and explore the potential transfer to new contexts of promising, innovative practices that facilitate new entrants, successors and address the issue of access to land.

RURALIZATION is also aware that important to rural regeneration is harnessing new economic opportunities, diversifying the rural economy and moving away from a reliance on primary sectors such as agriculture and forestry. The project also focuses on attracting newcomers to rural areas, which does not just help to alleviate population decline but depending on the type of newcomer, can also generate new job opportunities (e.g. entrepreneur newcomers) or fill skills gaps helping support wider economic growth (e.g. labour migrants).   RURALIZATION will also identify, assess and explore the potential transfer to new contexts of promising, innovative practices that facilitate rural newcomers.

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Another aspect of RURALIZATION involves foresight analysis and assessing what can make rural areas more attractive to rural youth. This involves an innovative visioning exercise where in regions in 10 European countries data is gathered to understand the ‘dream’ futures of youth in relation to livelihood, accommodation and lifestyle. A second phase involves engagement with key stakeholders to understand if and how these dream futures can be made come true and finally, a policy agenda will be designed to focus on removal of obstacles.

The RURALIZATION project started in 2019. Since it commenced, it has endeavoured to understand what it can learn from existing research, develop the concepts and theory to assist our analysis, select case studies and gather data on the future dreams of rural youth.  RURALIZATION will continue until 2023. Towards the end of the project, the knowledge developed will feed into proposed new regeneration tools and policy options.

To stay updated on RURALIZATION you can register for the newsletter here:  https://www.ruralization.eu/contacto  

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Author Biographies

Dr Aisling MurtaghDr Aisling Murtagh

Dr Aisling Murtagh is a Postdoctoral Researcher with the RURALIZATION project at the Rural Studies Cluster, Discipline of Geography, National University of Ireland, Galway. She has worked on a number of rural development related national and European research projects in areas such as cultural and creative industries, short food supply chains and food cooperatives.

Before joining the RURALIZATION project she worked as Research and Development Officer with the National Rural Network where her work is particularly focused on the LEADER programme.

Dr Maura Farrell

Dr Maura FarrellDr Maura Farrell is a Geography Lecturer in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Irish Studies.  Maura’s teaching reflects her research specialism, which revolves around Rural and Agricultural Geography and her interests focus on processes of social, cultural and economic change for rural inhabitants.  On completion of a Teagasc Walsh Fellow PhD and awarded the Teagasc Bob O’ Connor Award for Research Excellence in 2009, Maura was appointed Post-Doctoral Researcher and Project Coordinator of the EU Framework Seven Project: Developing Europe’s Rural Regions in an Era of Globalization (DERREG).  Following a full time lecturing appointment in NUI Galway and in response to a 2015 Tender from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dr Farrell successfully led NUI Galway’s bid to run Ireland’s National Rural Network in conjunction with three other national partners. The National Rural Network is highly significant as the Department of Agriculture’s dissemination ‘vehicle’ for the national Rural Development Programme for 2014-2020, worth €3.92 billion.  Internationally, Dr Farrell is a member of a Geography partnership that forms part of a wider European consortium (led by Professor Mike Woods, Aberystwyth University) that won a 5-year Horizon 2020 project in 2016 (Integrative Mechanisms for Addressing Spatial Justice and Territorial Inequalities in Europe – IMAJINE).  In 2016, Dr Farrell was also one of three Geography staff who successfully applied for a project under the Northern Peripheries and Arctic Programme, examining peripheral livelihoods and land uses.  In 2018, Maura again successfully led the NUI Galway’s bid for the EU Horizon 2020 RURALIZATION project, which has 18 EU partners and received over €6 million funding.  All four projects have a budget value of over one point five million euro.  Maura has published and presented her research work extensively on a national and international basis and participated in numerous national and international rural conferences and seminar sessions, in addition to being an invited guest on numerous occasions for rural events and conferences.

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The opinions expressed in this article reflect only the authors’ view and in no way reflect the European Commission’s opinions. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.