In the first part of this series, we reviewed the theoretical directions of a new rural development paradigm. But how does it work in practice? How, through which methods and interventions can the development path of a rural region be effectively defined? In the following, we illustrate possible solutions using Hungarian and international examples.

Spain: medium-sized towns for rural revitalisation

One of the main objectives of the Spanish government is to stop the depopulation of the countryside and to rebuild rural prosperity. To this end, they decided to develop medium-sized cities in an integrated way. The province of Soria has a population density of just 9 people per square kilometre (Hungary has around 100). The development strategy of the city of Soria, its centre, the motto of which is “The moment is now!”, was the result of a lively social dialogue, leading to the identification of six development pillars.

The transformation of the built environment is based on available ecological resources (subsoil, renewable energies). Training on new construction methods and materials is organised, while polluting businesses are modernised or closed down.

Connecting rural and urban areas, accessing underdeveloped areas, supporting economic development and preserving air quality have been identified as the new determinants of transport. As transport has an impact on almost all other areas (e.g. health, social and economic costs or territorial impact), transport development takes place in partnership with these areas.

The role of local energy communities is emphasised in the development, and a key element of communication is educating the public in the energy transition process. Decarbonisation is starting in the city and will then be extended to smaller municipalities.

They prioritise the consumption of indigenous, local, seasonal and low environmental impact foods, which should be affordable for the whole population. The rural-urban link is perhaps most pronounced in this segment. They support extensive livestock farming and agro-industrial enterprises employing local people. Local markets and platforms are being developed to sell the food produced.

The circular economy model is used for water and waste management. As with transport, they tackle problems in a complex way. The circular economy will be supported through four axes: education, organisation, cooperation and innovation.

The development of the city’s municipality will also represent the wider region. They aim to make the city of Soria the centre of territorial cohesion policy.

The website of the programme:

Germany: “Smart Region” concept: Smarte Region Hessen

The Smarte Region Hessen programme aims to support the digitisation of local authorities in Hessen and to promote the economic and social development of rural regions through smart technologies and digitisation. The central support office helps identify local needs, connect municipalities and smart solution providers and helps implement projects.

Between 2020 and 2024, EUR 100 million is allocated to support digitisation projects of regional and local authorities. More than 70 projects have already been launched under the programme, mainly in rural areas. It is important for the municipalities supported to share their experiences by creating a knowledge base.

The projects supported include the digitisation of administration, the construction of smart urban solutions and the creation of a digital village portal, always tailored to local needs. Several municipalities are using the “Digital Village Square” (Der Digitale Dorfplatz) app. Its aim is to connect the local community, enabling them to share information and communicate with each other, search for or offer services to the community.

Three further examples of rural development in Germany are worth briefly mentioning: In Wiesbaden, a digital health coach service has been set up, in Rüsselsheim a smart parking system and a digital home showroom have been built, and in Stockheim a digital disaster warning system has been installed.

Elsewhere, several municipalities have set up a joint project to develop smart irrigation systems that plan irrigation programmes based on data from weather stations. Bicycle roads are equipped with sensors to warn of increased traffic, accidents or even when the local herd of cows has strayed onto the road.

The website of the programme:

Poland: creation of energy cooperatives

In Poland, energy cooperatives started to form in 2016, after the unsustainability of the Polish energy mix was recognised. There are currently 66 nationally recognised energy clusters in the country. Two of the biggest obstacles to the creation of cooperatives are low public funding and co-financing, and social mistrust left over from the socialist era.

In Poland, energy clusters are expected to play a major role in the rural development process. Cooperatives are most often initiated by local businesses or local government. As a result, local government plays a significant leadership role in the operation of energy clusters, ensuring that local people can get direct information and support for the project. In Poland, universities are often members of energy clusters. This has a positive impact on community innovation potential. For the SME sector, being part of a cluster also gives them access to an innovation knowledge base that would otherwise be difficult to access.

Energy cooperatives can quickly adapt technological innovations, facilitate knowledge sharing and become a driving force for sustainable rural development.

For communities based on brown coal mining, sustainable energy cooperatives could be a breakthrough. These regions have very low innovation potential and clusters bring the potential for high added value work. One such example is Zgorzelec, where the energy cluster has been set up in the framework of Polish-German cross-border cooperation.

The website of one of the components of the programme:

Hungary: Hungarian Village Programme

The Hungarian Village Programme was created in 2018 specifically to increase the population retention capacity of villages with a population of less than 5,000. Programme content development was preceded by an extensive social dialogue, and the definition of the objectives of the Hungarian Village Programme and the shaping of the procedure have been based on the opinions and experiences of the villages ever since. It is important that the programme is visible to the general public, so a major communication effort is also involved.

The Hungarian Village Programme has proved to be uniquely successful and popular, as evidenced by statistics showing that small Hungarian villages have seen an increase or a slowing decline in population.

Among the most important results of the programme, a total of HUF 213 billion in family homemaking allowance has been used in the municipalities concerned, 2,238 km of roads have been renovated and HUF 278 billion in aids has been awarded since the programme started. Under the Village Civic Fund, HUF 20 billion has been allocated to NGOs in small villages. The programme has also developed its own programmes to support the development of small groceries and business start-ups in order to increase the competitiveness of local businesses.

The website of the programme:

The Rural Development Division of Századvég Konjunktúrakutató is committed to the study, dissemination and promotion of the new rural development paradigm. To this end, we carry out national and international desk research and empirical studies, identify good practices and disseminate the results to our partners.