On 26-29 September 2022, the Horizon 2020 project SmartAgriHubs organised its Final Event. More than 350 stakeholders, including Digital Innovation Hubs, Competence Centres, technology providers, policy-makers, researchers, investors, and agri-food associations attended the conference, which took place in Lisbon.

Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 were the Synergy Days, where more than 20 projects dealing with agri-tech contributed to the more than 30 workshops organised. DESIRA was one of the Synergy  projects, which were presented on the first day, and also organised the workshop The role of regional, national and European policies for rural digitalisation.

During this workshop, the DESIRA team presented the main results of the 15 National Policy Analyses and Synthesis Report. In a participatory exercise, attendees were then asked to contribute to this Roadmap by:

– Prioritising the policy objectives identified by DESIRA:
– Setting the context in which these objectives should happen;
– Identifying the drivers that can support rural digitalisation policies.

Mar Delgado (University of Córdoba) presented the preliminary results of the project. DESIRA has performed policy analysis in the 15 countries of the consortium, examining local, regional and national policies affecting digitalisation in rural areas with a two-fold approach: how digitalisation policies impact rural areas, and how rural development policies address digitalisation.  The synthesis report shows the diversity of EU countries, and the different approaches they follow in designing and implementing digitalisation policies. It is built upon 5 blocks: digitalisation strategies, rural digitalisation, broadband strategies, digital literacy and digital trust.

The exercise shows that there is insufficient data available, which makes it challenging to assess the impact of policies. The targets for the 1 st European Digital Agenda were not achieved when we look at rural areas specifically, there is an important gap when transposing EU policies for rural contexts. There is a significant urban-rural digital divide, in terms of infrastructure (e.g. Next Generation Access technologies are available for 60% of rural homes, instead of 87% in urban areas), but also in terms of digital skills (only 48% of rural population have basic digital skills, while it is 62% in urban contexts). The gap is even wider when considering the gender gap, as well as other demographic challenges (e.g. ageing). Even if COVID-19 has pushed for some progress in several services, such as distance learning, e-health or e- administration, the gap among wealthier and poorer groups in society has widened. The Synthesis Report is the basis for the DESIRA Policy Roadmap, which will be built around four blocks: infrastructure, digital competences, rural digitalisation, and digital trust. Find here the full presentation.

Nine participants from eight different countries (Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain) contributed to the participatory exercise. Out of the 11 policy objectives suggested by DESIRA, the attendees prioritised:

  • To ensure accessible connectivity and digital infrastructures in rural areas
  • To overcome fragmentation and to connect systems (e.g., European Data Space)
  • To provide easy-to-use and affordable digital services to farmers and farmers’ advisors.
  • To promote digital competences and digital ecosystems in rural areas
  • To ensure accessible connectivity and digital infrastructures in rural areas
  • To mainstream digital solutions to support service provision & administrative routines in rural areas
  • To overcome fragmentation and to connect systems (e.g., European Data Space)
  • To support data-driven decisions

The entry level varies according to the country (federal, centralised, shared competencies, etc.) and the topic selected (from farm level to European), and several administrative bodies should be involved. In addition, a new suggestion as policy priority was to ensure access to public services in rural areas, such as education, health or mobility. Participants highlighted that connectivity and digital infrastructure is a precondition for rural digitalisation. Adoption of digital technologies cannot happen is access and availability of infrastructure are not ensured.

The results of the workshop will feed the DESIRA Policy Roadmap, which will be published by the end of the project. On 15 November, the Rural Digitalisation Forum of DESIRA will meet to take the discussion to the next level.