Authors: Enrique Nieto and Blanca Casares, AEIDL

During the last months, DESIRA’s Rural Digitalisation Forum has been working on a dedicated contribution to the process of the ‘Long-term vision for rural areas’ (LTVRA). This is a high-level policy initiative launched by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, that will result on the publication of a Commission Communication before the summer of 2021.

DESIRA’s contribution takes the form of three documents that capitalised on the knowledge already developed in the project and on the views of RDF’s members and other relevant stakeholders (from other H2020 projects, academics, local developers, SMEs, etc.).

The purpose was to reflect on how digital technologies can contribute to build desirable futures for rural areas by 2040 and provide examples on the application of key technologies nowadays (see DESIRA’s contribution here).

Digitalisation is a mega trend already affecting agriculture, forestry and the life of rural citizens across Europe. It is a key game-changer that will continue playing a central role in shaping the European rural landscape for the next decades. The three documents outline current concerns, threats, benefits, opportunities raised and lessons learned around the application of key digital tools and technologies under certain agricultural, forestry and rural scenarios. These were further analysed in a fourth document elaborating recommendations to be considered in the future rural vision, supporting a sustainable digital transformation through mechanisms that allow rural actors to seize the opportunities offered by digitalisation and minimise its risks.

Key digital technologies affecting rural life, agriculture and forestry sectors

The 53 experts from 16 Member States and 3 non-EU countries provided their views about the digital technologies that will have the most influence on the future of rural life, agriculture and forestry sectors. Although the relevance of the different technologies depends on the specific scenario in which they are applied, the experts consulted, highlighted a number of technologies with the potential to bring change in many application scenarios in the three areas/domains by 2040. In this respect, the four most prominent technologies mentioned areas follows (see figure 1 in the order of relevance):

The technologies that appear lower in figure 1, such as 3D printing, Virtual Reality or Blockchain, perhaps reflect the fact that these are not widely applied in all sectors and their application is now limited to a small number of ‘niche’ contexts.  However, this does not limit their potential for becoming more relevant game changers in the future.

Figure 1: Most relevant technologies that could shape the future of rural areas in 2040 (share of mentions N=53)


Set of principles to guide digitalisation processes toward desired futures

An important outcome from the analysis carried out by the RDF, is a set of principles to guide and support the future development and implementation of digitalisation processes in agriculture, forestry and rural areas.

  • Create the basic conditions for digitalisation – infrastructure, skills and exploitation capacity;
  • Anchor digitalisation to sustainable development;
  • Adapt digitalisation to different contexts by engaging with local stakeholders;
  • Favour digital inclusion of all citizens to avoid marginalisation and polarisation;
  • Develop local digital ecosystems supported by brokers that link local needs with digital knowledge;
  • Develop adaptive governance models that engage science and innovation with policy makers and civil society;
  • Design policy tools for sustainable digitalisation, that support local communities in developing and implementing digitalisation actions plans.

It is a recommendation from DESIRA’s contribution that these principles should be reflected in rural policies, starting from CAP Strategic Plans and Next Generation EU Recovery Plans.