Research Report 13
Rural areas across Europe are facing more rapid emigration than ever before. Due to the diminishing prospects for financially feasible agriculture, and the lack of supplementing sources of income, rural areas are characterized by high unemployment, a narrow occupational base and poor job creation. The result is a loss of attractiveness of rural regions for human resources.
The main challenge for the forest sector in supporting rural development is to find counter-measures to break the vicious circle. Higher and especially more innovative utilization of existing wood and non-wood forest resources would contribute to rural development by increasing employment opportunities, and raise the economic benefits obtained from the forests. The challenges of the forest sector in contributing to the vitality of rural areas in Europe have been extensively examined in the FORWARD project at the European Forest Institute. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were used to study the possibilities for employment and income generation in the border regions of Europe.
Based on the quantitative analysis, regional variation in forest resource and socio-economic structures in EU countries was considered to be large. However, on the basis of national-level data, country groups that have similar characteristics in forestry, forest products trade and socio-economics could be identified. These groups prove a valuable aid in arriving at suggestions for a more general applicability of the results of regional level analyses. The Qualitative Comparative Analysis was used in looking for support for the hypotheses on regional development.
Low local demand and long distance to the main markets are the major hindrances to be overcome. The strategies aimed at increasing the potential for the forest sector cannot concentrate on regional consumption alone. The main task lies in connecting rural producers and urban consumers. On the processing side, much hope is placed especially on small- and medium-scale mechanical wood industries.
The development of services is also identified as one of the opportunities to create forest related income and employment. Tourism is usually named among the main possibilities for development, but other options exist as well. Examples can be seen where employment has been created through conservation activities – such as the use of traditional management methods that have been used with the intention of creating aesthetically pleasing landscapes. One of the main problems here is the development of appropriate transactions mechanisms to direct income from these activities to rural regions rather than to actors from outside the region.
The work also intends to draw the attention to the importance of the development of human rather than physical resources in the development of strategies. It has to be emphasized that regions and countries are different, and one has to be very cautious in drawing generally applicable conclusions. This also means that the differences between countries and regions should be respected, and the development efforts concentrated on the approaches that utilize the local characteristics in the best possible way.
Pentti Hyttinen, Anssi Niskanen, Andreas Ottitsch, Markku Tykkyläinen and Johanna Väyrynen. 2002. Forest Related Perspectives for Regional Development in Europe. EFI Research Report 13. Brill: Leiden, Boston, Köln.
Number of pages: 129
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