The countryside is the country’s gold reserves – conference on the future of the Hungarian countryside
What is characteristic to the Hungarian countryside, what condition is it in? What are the government development concepts that determine the future of the Hungarian countryside? What social mobilities are characteristic to it? Is it true that more and more people are moving from big cities to the countryside? At the event of the Rural Conference organized by Századvég Konjunktúrakutató Zrt. in November 2021, presenters answered the above questions, among other things.
The conference was based on large-scale research with the aim to map the perception of the settlements in the Hungarian countryside, the situation of the population living all over the country, the effects of government and EU development programs, and the population retention of the countryside. During the survey, Századvég had close contact with all relevant actors: the people living there, local governments, local organizations, and decision-makers.
The conference was opened by Kinga Kenyeres, Deputy Chief Business Officer of Századvég Konjunktúrakutató Zrt., who said in her opening speech that since there is no precise definition of the “countryside”, it is equivalent to Hungary as a whole. Therefore, the development of the countryside is actually the same as the development of the country: “A city does not exist without the countryside, and vice versa. The countryside is both a value and a resource.”
What should the Hungarian countryside be like?
Should it be an open-air or a classical self-sufficient one, cultivating the land and breeding animals in a traditional way of production? Or the scene of the young generation moving from Budapest? Or a shelter for people who have moved back for their retirement? Or a new quality living space for urban people? Should it be a holiday village to achieve the goals of tourism? What shall the countryside offer? Quality living space, livelihood, or security? – asked István Nagy, Minister of Agriculture in his presentation. He thinks that “the countryside should be the area providing the backbone of Hungary in economic, cultural and social terms”.
Last year alone, more than 16,000 people moved from the capital and 2,600 from other cities, while the number of people living in the villages increased by 19,000. These figures also prove that people are increasingly longing for a way of life closer to nature, said István Nagy.
He said it is important that it should be good to live in the countryside, it should provide a livelihood and security. The task of the ministry is to help regions catch up and improve the quality of life for rural people. To maintain the competitiveness of rural economies, it is essential to combat youth unemployment, ensure adequate remuneration for workers and adequate rural infrastructure in rural areas. He added that during the last two terms, agriculture and the food industry have spectacularly developed and there are additional reserves, noting that the Hungarian countryside is indisputably emerging.
István Nagy also pointed out that the countryside is not a homogenous structure. It is made up of small villages, medium-sized settlements, larger towns, and economic poles; tourist areas, protected natural regions, and agricultural areas complement each other. Therefore, according to the head of the ministry, its problems must be dealt with in a complex way, taking into account a number of factors, in which the establishment of the Government Committee for Rural Development is a significant step forward.
Due to the Hungarian Village Program, the villages have been revitalised
The amount of budget subsidies spent on the Hungarian Village Program will soon reach HUF 1,000 billion. Due to the program, villages have been revitalised, said Alpár Gyopáros, Government Commissioner responsible for the development of modern settlements, at the conference.
Since the start of the program, the population has grown in 1,100 settlements, including 858 settlements that used to have a declining trend for decades. There is a strong will to continue the program until all this can be said about the 2,372 settlements in Hungary, he added.
The budget of the program is also expanding year by year: the current amount of over HUF 600 billion has increased by more than HUF 291 billion for next year. This year, as a novelty, the program will support two market segments: domestic micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and small settlement businesses. He announced that retail store development worth tens of billions of forints will take place, 121 new stores may be opened with the support of HUF 5.6 billion this year and next, and 1,415 existing stores will be supported with an additional HUF 32 billion.
Tibor Navracsics, Government Commissioner responsible for the development of the Economic Development Zone in Northwest Hungary, said that rural development does not exist without settlement development and vice versa. He explained that although the North Transdanubia region under his supervision is at a high level of development within Hungary, it has to compete with the regions of Vienna, Burgenland and Bratislava in terms of quality of life and in the labour market, due to its proximity thereto, and not with Eastern Hungary.
Dr Szabolcs Ágostházy, State Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for EU development, reported that it is a huge success that the number of people exposed to poverty in Hungary has been steadily decreasing since 2013. Ágostházy also said that the goal of the development policy is to make Hungary one of the five most liveable countries in the European Union by 2030. The Secretary of State’s presentation revealed that the Economic Restart Action Plan is already largely based on domestic resources. In addition, he emphasized that the next seven years will be a historic opportunity in terms of development policy as well, with development funding to an unprecedented extent.
The mission of Századvég is to devote its professional and scientific resources to the analysis, interpretation and increased knowledge of regional processes, one of the opening events of which was the Rural Conference 2021, as the countryside, rural Hungary, if you like, as a diversified social, economic and no less political topic, as far as we are concerned, will play an increasingly prominent role not only in the creation of future government strategy, in its structure and executive tasks, but also in terms of task prioritization in economic and social research workshops.