The challenges facing farming and rural areas, and the potential policy responses, were discussed at the opening of a two-day European conference on rural development in Cork yesterday.
Some 333 delegates are attending the conference, 20 years after a similar event culminated in the signing of the Cork Declaration on Rural Development.
That declaration led to the EU adopting rural development as the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Drafting a new Cork declaration, reflecting the new challenges facing the sector in the 21st century, is the aim of the current conference.
EU commissioner Phil Hogan said in welcoming the delegates that the way we think about rural development has changed since 1996, reflecting a changing world.
With the power of technology and connectivity, rural communities have the potential to be more in tune with global ‘conversations’ than ever before, said Mr Hogan.
Yet, there remains a clear and unacceptable digital divide between urban and rural areas — notably in terms of broadband and access to transformative innovations and technologies.
Despite the fact that 300m EU citizens live in rural areas, only 25% are covered by fast or ultra-fast broadband, compared to around 70% coverage in urban areas.
“In our work here in Cork, we have a real opportunity to initiate the modernisation of our European agriculture and rural development policies,” said Mr Hogan.
“The work you do here can have a decisive impact on the years to come.”
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