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Sitra studied Finns’ relationship with the countryside and their views on rural development - demand for new service concepts

This is according to the barometer commissioned by Sitra, which monitors Finns relationship with the countryside.

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Above all, Finns expect from the countryside better availability of organic and local food as well as opportunities for recharging their batteries, recreation and encounters with the nature. Development of new service implementation methods is seen as an urgent development target.

This is according to the barometer commissioned by Sitra (PDF in Finnish), which monitors Finns relationship with the countryside. Over 1,600 Finns replied to the survey drawn up by Agrifood Research Finland’s Economic Research unit and implemented by Taloustutkimus Oy in February 2011. The first Landmarks Barometer was implemented by Sitra in autumn 2009.

Belief in the countryside has strengthened in two years

Belief in the importance of the countryside to Finland has increased in less than two years. There are twice as many people with an optimistic attitude towards the future of the countryside (31% -> 42%) than those with a pessimistic outlook (32% -> 22%). Less than two years ago, the opinions were divided evenly.
“Trust in the future has increased in all age groups but most significantly among the 25 to 44-year-olds. At the same time, Finns’ belief in the depopulation of the countryside has collapsed (68 %->31%),” says Eeva Hellström, Director of Sitra’s Landmarks Programme.

There are as many people feeling that they are both urban and rural dwellers (36%->38%) as there are those considering themselves exclusively urban dwellers (40%->39%). However, identities in various age groups are developing in different directions: 15 to 24-year-olds feel increasingly urban, whereas an increasing number of 25 to 44-year-olds feel that they belong to both groups.

The countryside is for all Finns

Wishes for the future of the countryside are similar regardless of the age group or place of residence. According to the barometer, Finns widely agree that the countryside is for everyone and it should be developed to meet the needs of all Finns.
“In personal terms, Finns expect space and peace from the countryside above all, as well as opportunities to recharge their batteries and for recreation. Young people in particular considered this important to themselves. The change in the Finns’ relationship with the countryside entails many new business opportunities, the recognition of which requires new demand-based rural thinking.”

According to the barometer, half of Finns (50%) felt that there should be a great deal of new kinds of green economy business activities in the countryside. Better availability of organic and local food was especially desired (64% of the respondents). On the other hand, only 20% of the respondents desired more efficient agriculture.
“It appears that various local green economy solutions are seen as a genuine alternative to centralisation but people do not yet fully believe that they will be realised. Fulfilment of Finns’ wishes could also be promoted with the means of rural policy.”

According to Hellström, the significance of the countryside as a contributing factor to Finns’ well-being and new green economy opportunities is recognised in the current rural policies but concrete objectives and practical measures are often lagging behind. The countryside is still being developed more from the perspective of the countryside supply than Finns’ demand.

Demand for new service implementation methods

Regardless of their political views, the respondents felt that attracting new residents to the countryside, development of rural businesses and service implementation methods, and improvement of data connections in order to develop information society in the countryside are the most pressing countryside development measures. Likewise, the intensification of the community structure is opposed over party political lines.

“Above all, rural development requires new ways of thinking and new operating models, which will be bring the solutions sustainably and cost-effectively closer to the people, either physically or virtually. Land use planning could also be used to better support human-oriented green local economy and sustainable well-being. Instead of intensification we should be talking about harmonisation or design of sustainable land use.”

The largest differences of opinion between respondents of various political allegiances were related to the increase of funding for rural programmes, to which proponents of the National Coalition Party in particular took a critical view. Supporters of the Social Democratic Party and the National Coalition Party also had reservations about special support allocated to remote areas. Green economic solutions and new forms of business were espoused by the supporters of the Greens of Finland and the Left Alliance. The supporters of the Finnish Centre Party emphasised more often than other respondents the need to attract new residents to the countryside and the development of rural businesses as well as financial support for remote areas.

Further information

Eeva Hellström, Director, Landmarks Programme, Sitra, mobile +358 50 3512 412, firstname.lastname@sitra.fi
Päivi Hirvola, Specialist, Stakeholder Engagement, Landmarks Programme, Sitra, mobile +358 40 549 8008, firstname.lastname@sitra.fi

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