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Rural trends that may impact sustainability

Rural trends that may impact sustainability

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Article by Henryk Stawicki from Kobiety

Rural communities face various interconnected opportunities and challenges caused by global and local shifts. Development of current social, technological, geo-political, economic, legal and environmental seed trends may positively and negatively impact rural ecosystem sustainability. Some are specific to rural areas, such as dispersed populations and connectivity to a range of services (both physical and virtual). There are also issues common to rural and urban areas that affect rural areas differently, such as ageing, population growth and affordable housing[1].

A significant shift in rural business succession

The new generation of future rural entrepreneurs is guided by values often significantly different from their parents. Retiring farmers and rural business owners may open innovation opportunities for young people to take over their firms[2]. New rural leadership may result in more agile management, balanced gender structure and triple-bottom-line principles (people, planet, profit) values. One may compare it to the analogy of the hairdresser’s successor taking over their parents’ salon to recreate it as a barbershop. Such a successor transforms parents’ business into one that follows their values, ambitions and current market trends. With growing rural successors community and related innovation, potential entrepreneurs might become more attracted to return or migrate to rural areas after obtaining an urban-based career.

Need for resilience

Changing climate is a multifaceted phenomenon with progressive impacts on food production, land use, policies and lifestyles. The rise of ecological awareness, environmental degradation, pollution and risks may drive the need for new capacities. Rural inhabitants, households, farms and organisations may need to increase the adoption of new management practices that reduce risks and allow for quick adaptation and agility. The need for self-sufficiency may increase at various levels (individual, household, farm, region, nation, Europe etc.) in food, energy, competencies and other areas. Such a shift may require an increase in investment and costs but would further reduce risk and increase resilience.

Rural migration and degrowth

The economic concept of growth is, by definition, not sustainable. In natural ecosystems, growth is represented as a phase with a clear transition to degrowth. Excessive growth in nature would always lead to imbalance and is, therefore, always tamed.

High-paced urban life built on a growth-based economic concept creates the need for alternative lifestyles built on slow, nature-aligned degrowth principles. Rural economies may see a growing demand for nature-based and immaterial welfare services and local, regional or domestic food. Migration from urban to rural may increase and modify both the point of departure and the point of arrival, impacting not only rural areas but also small cities, suburbs, and cities. Increased use of digital technologies and tools may provide productivity gains and platforms for new economic rural activities. Prospering rural businesses may expand the rural labour force employment and create better conditions for new market entrants.

The new value of land

Demand for new use of rural land may increase the value and tension in the rural landscape. With new migration, increased technological demand, and urban-rural shifts, land may need to supply energy, agriculture, recreation, housing, and nature conservation needs. At the same time, natural and cultural heritage may raise its value and contribute to rural regions’ identity, branding and attractiveness. In return, policies may aim to reduce environmental degradation to safeguard systems and improve the status of the environment. With the rise of rural value, migration from urban to rural may continue, bringing an increased scale and format of interactions and exchange between the ‘local’ and the ‘new’.

Rural trends that may impact sustainability

Evolution of circular principles

Farmers might focus on creating less biowaste and adopt more efficient use of raw materials based on the circular economy principles. Farms might continue implementing new and old solutions focused on recycling, reuse, sharing, repair and more. Farmers may see better agroecological, environmental, cooperative-based or organic farming prospects. Globally increasing demand for the transition towards more transparent supply chains might increase the value of rural producers and the origins of food and materials. This may push rural social capital to become more diversified and more productive in the search for sustainable innovation based on circular economy principles.

New rural economies

With the expansion of remote work, the degrowth movement, and the regenerative and creative economy, the rural landscape may continue to attract more artists, creatives and digital workers. In return, it may result in developing new community and partnership formats[3] and using new business models based on such principles as sharing economy or circular economy. Demand for ecological, safe and affordable rural housing may increase, as well as for new service formats. The new wave of urban-rural migration may increase the need to settle new communities aiming at integrating all dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, environmental and cultural.

Presented potential scenarios are a mix of strong, established signals (megatrends) and weak ones (seed trends yet to grow) based on existing research. Some will continue to grow rapidly, while others may never develop into significant sustainability shifts. Therefore there are several futures, or in other words, future scenario options, that may happen. The most significant point of interest is how these shifts impact people, their needs, required capabilities and new whuman-nature relationships. We highly recommend regular future horizon scanning and reviewing existing trends to foresee their impact on rural sustainability.

[1] What will rural communities look like in the future? Cabinet Office and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 7.08.2017 [accessed: 30.10.2022]

[2] [accessed: 30.10.2022]

[3]Global trends and the future of rural areas, 01.2007, The International Journal or Rural Development, [accessed: 30.10.2022]

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