Smart villages, or how to improve living conditions in rural Poland –

Smart villages, or how to improve living conditions in rural Poland –

Today, Polish and European villages are struggling with many problems. This includes the depopulation of rural areas and the aging of rural communities. Experts suggest, among others, the need for more digitalization of rural areas related to increasing the capacity of residents and providing support to local community leaders.

How to improve the Polish countryside and rural areas. How to support the implementation of new technologies there, including information and telecommunications, to keep young people and work in their cities? How is the concept of so-called smart villages? This was discussed by the participants of the website called “Smart Villages: How to improve living conditions in Poland”.

Today, Polish and European villages are struggling with many problems. These include the depopulation of rural areas and the aging of rural communities. Prof. Monika Stanny from the Institute of Rural Development and Agriculture of the Polish Academy of Sciences showed many conditions affecting the country of Poland for a long time.

“This is, on the one hand, automation and digital transformation. We must see opportunities in this development challenge. The other situation is climate change. For villages, this means the possibility of implementing ecosystem services and new sources of energy . The third factor is population change. Depending on the continent, it is the development or decline of the population. In our situation, it is primarily the aging of society and migration, which causes processes of population decline in rural areas, and in urban areas there is a large concentration, which also creates a challenge for them,” he said.

The expert noted that the so-called working urban areas, city dwellers come out to find rural conditions, but close to the city. However, when these areas are crowded, it turns out that they lack, for example, services, which makes this area – as Prof. Stanny – “it becomes neither urban nor rural.”

The expert from the Institute of Rural Development and Agriculture of the Polish Academy of Sciences also identified five challenges that are affected by the previously calculated conditions. The first is the direction of people’s welfare. “We are changing from a purely economic discourse to a discourse on the well-being of people in Europe. It results, among other things, that education becomes very important, which is considered as an investment, not an expense. But here you can already see the difference between urban areas and rural. Therefore, the third challenge is linked to this – the fragmentation of development. But not in this traditional village-village way. The balance is about this urban-rural continuum. The more geographically from the regional center, the level of development is down,” said the expert.

He also spoke about the challenge of the role of the agricultural sector in the local economy and emphasized that the more the rural area depends on agricultural production that is not compatible with other sectors that generate employment, the lower the level of local development. As he recalled, only about 1/3 of the rural population currently lives off agriculture.

The last challenge identified by Prof. The issue of infrastructure is of high quality. “It is through this infrastructure that we are connected to others – the road provides transport, telephone communication and the Internet as well. But there is also a social infrastructure that is very important for the elderly living in rural areas. This is, for example, about access to services,” he emphasized.

Awareness of the challenges in rural communities is limited

Campaigner of the Rural Aid Foundation and editor of the Rural Web Site Magdalena Kowalczyk it particularly emphasized the challenges of climate change.

“From our report published in 2017 >>The Polish Country: Diagnosis and Forecasting<< shows that climate change is going to be one of the most important, and in my opinion even the most important thing, affecting rural life. We can see it even outside the window, because in January we have storms or storms. But it is also about drought, including agricultural drought. Although in my area the agricultural land is of good quality, in strong winds we get frequent sand storms that even old people don't remember. But this is an increasingly common phenomenon in Poland, he said.

As he added, awareness of the problem among residents is low, however. “They do not know that they can reduce these effects of climate change. We will not stop these changes, but every resident of the countryside, especially farmers, can weaken these effects. We can take care of your microclimate. However, I hope that this change of consciousness will happen soon,” said Kowalczyk.

At the same time, he explained the need to preserve living organisms or a stand in the middle of the field, which is a natural protection against extreme heat or storms, and also allows better water conservation. He pointed out that although the level of awareness of the problem is still low in rural areas, there are many awareness programs. He emphasized the role of non-governmental organizations, including the Rural Development Foundation.

Rural Europe is very diverse

Rural areas in the European Union are different. This has been stated by the head of the Cabinet of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development Maciej Golubiewski. Representative of the European Commission and one of the most important advisers of the commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski he remembered that the differences are not only due to social and economic issues, but also geography.

“There are Member States where the countryside consists almost exclusively of mountains. For others, it is islands. But the demographic differences are also very important. In Portugal, the average age of a farmer is 65 years, and it is only less than 5 percent. farmers are under 40 years old. Fortunately, the situation in Poland is a little better, because we have 20 percent. farmers under 40 years old. And in this regard, we are at the forefront of Europe. This, however, shows how This difference can be seen in terms of population, said a representative of the European Commission.

As for the so-called infrastructure gap, it is Golubiewski who said that countries such as Spain, “where there has been an overproduction of road infrastructure,” are currently focusing on digitalization in rural areas. In Poland, however, he pointed out many gaps in municipal infrastructure, for example, in the number of paved roads or sewage disposal systems.

“This makes the European strategy broad enough to allow the Member States to deal with the different situations they face. In fact, the climate challenges are different. Because there are countries where there is less agricultural land and more forests or peat bogs. We are talking about of great difference “, explained the representative of the European Commission.

Lack of leaders in rural areas

At the Institute of Rural Development and Agriculture of the Polish Academy of Sciences, research on the concept of a smart village Łukasz Komorowski showed that it fundamentally answers the challenge of digital intelligence.

“That’s when talking about a smart village started 4-5 years ago. It was then discovered that there was a technical and competence gap in terms of information and communication infrastructure. Then it was understood that measures should be taken to close this gap. Only about 30 percent. households have access to high-speed Internet, i.e. Internet with a capacity of 30 megabits per second. In urban areas, this access has about 60%. households. Thanks to operational programs, such as “Digital Poland”, it is estimated that percent this in rural areas will double by the end of 2023. So the process of properly preparing rural areas is taking place”, the expert explained.

He added that this concept has improved over time and today it is believed that a smart village is a village where technology and creativity are used every day to improve the quality of life, improve the level of public services and better use of local resources. . These changes – as Komorowski explained – should be tools.

“So we are entering the area of ​​social innovation, often of a soft nature. All this is expected to bring about an improvement in the quality of life in the countryside,” he said.

He also pointed to the development of a bottom-up approach in the European Union for several years. “The peculiarity is that we focus on even one area. This, of course, until now has been somewhere in the rural budgets or in the funds for the renewal of the village, when the main driving force was the local government of the district, and the concept of an intelligent village thinks that the inhabitants of the village should be given agency. It is important, however, that this territorial amendment is preceded by a public debate with the participation of the residents, “Komorowski emphasized.

He added that the research conducted at the Institute showed that the respondents identified the lack of leaders or their boredom after many years of dealing with this issue as the biggest obstacle in the implementation of this concept.

The expert said that the small number of leaders is an obstacle for domestic activities in Poland. “In each region, there are several leaders of this type who are responsible for certain sectors only, and in most of the rural areas, leaders who can create the idea of ​​a smart village together with the locals, are still missing,” he said.

However, he stressed that some municipalities implement some concepts of the smart village concept without even knowing that it is part of the concept.

Attractive offer for residents of rural areas

Chief Specialist of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Jakub Stępień he said that one of the concepts of the implementation of the smart village concept is to focus on some small rural areas, namely special villages that are often forgotten.

“We will not only focus on the jobs resulting from the digitization process. But from this discussion, and also from the documents of the European Commission, the conclusion is that not only innovation and technology are important here. That is why we want to focus on the villagers themselves and make their lives better. The purpose of a good concept of the village is also, in my opinion, that the residents themselves feel that the area they live in is becoming better and more attractive to live in, “said the representative of the ministry.

He noted that young people often run away from the countryside and go to big cities for educational or professional purposes, which means that these villages are deprived of their potential. “Our goal as a country and individual ministries is, among other things, to place these people in rural areas, but by encouraging them to do so and showing them how important these areas are and how much value they have to stay and develop. As a ministry, we know the problems which the panelists talked about. So our role is to present an offer like this that will prevent, challenge and change this vision of rural areas. And when it comes to the intelligent village, we have introduced financial support aimed at bringing together residents to develop a good concept of the village, ” said Stępień.

In the proposals presented by the members of the network, they indicated the need to further digitize rural areas in relation to increasing the capacity of rural residents and creating appropriate digital services, providing support to community leaders and creating new leaders of the future, providing support to financially and procedurally for rural organizations or showing good practices from other countries and from Poland.