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Living and working in rural areas? Europe's young people are clicking on "I like"

A European survey carried out in eight Member States



Agriculture and rural life seem to have found the right appeal for Europe's young people between 17 and 20 years of age, especially among those living in rural areas and who have had work experience in a farm. This is the key result of the survey carried out by the Italian National Rural Network together with 8 Member States (Netherlands, France, Finland, Belgium, Poland, Sweden, Latvia and Malta). However, this survey tells us more: rural areas are preferred for their better quality of life and because they are a better place to raise children, a place where contact with nature is possible; livestock farming appears in first place among young people's best rural "jobs"; processing and packaging industry, health care and social welfare are the sectors they would work in beside the agricultural sector; who wants to become a farmer underlines that the main difficulties are related to a lack of resources for investments and inadequate income to meet the family needs. In general, boys are asking for more recreational and extracurricular activities (especially sporting activities); while girls are interested in schools and universities (and cultural places). The best place to live in should have 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants.
Let's go into details: the project of carrying out a survey on young people's perception of rural areas was launched by the Italian National Rural Network at the 11th NRN meeting - European Network for Rural Development that took place in Bad Schandau - Germany. This project aimed at studying young people current perception of agriculture and life in rural areas. Addressing to students in their last two years of high school and first-year university students, the project could rely on the participation of 9 Member States' National Rural Networks: Netherlands, France, Italy, Finland, Belgium (Flemish Network), Poland, Latvia, Sweden (preliminary phase), Malta. The final version of this questionnaire is the result of cooperation between these MS, which could successfully use social networking tools. 
1,563 is the number of interviews collected all over Europe; the results of the questionnaires give a wide-ranging and interesting overview of what the "community" of young people in Europe thinks about agriculture the future of rural areas.
More than 60% of the students (average age: 19 years old) has considered the idea of carrying out, in the future, a working activity in a rural area. Rural areas are considered "a place characterized by the equilibrium between man and nature"  by more than a third of respondents, while a little less than a third thinks of a rural area as "a place where it would be nice to live in". Who already lives in rural areas likes the place he/she lives in even more (+16%). If 6 is the rate given to the quality of urban life, students gave an average rate of 7.2 to the quality of rural life. Rural areas are associated with agricultural activities by 66% of the respondents (by 80% of Italian students and 79% of Polish students). Also in this case, who lives in the countryside is more confident in the future of rural areas compared to those living in a urban center. The role of rural areas in the development of a Country is considered "essential" in Netherlands (54%), Italy (40%), Latvia (38%) and Finland (36%). Rural areas play "an important and ever-growing role" in Poland (72%); "an important but declining role" in France (57%) and Belgium (48%); while in Malta "don't know" answers prevailed (31%). Also when not living in the countryside, young people use to visit rural areas on average at least once a month.
Compared to the quality of life and taking into account the indicators examined on the whole, 43% of the respondents has a very good perception of rural areas. What affects positively the assessment of the quality of life? The "closeness to nature" (on average, 8.9 points out of 10) followed by the "environment where children are growing" (on average, 7.8 points out of 10). What instead affects negatively the assessment is, in the order of importance, the lack of "recreational and extra-curricular activities", the lack of "road links and means of public transportation" (for France this is the main factor), the lack of "schools" (main factor for Malta).
Among the recreational facilities that would make rural areas more attractive there are, in order of importance: "sporting facilities" (47% of respondents), "pubs, disco-pubs and lounge bars" (42%), "agritourisms" (33%), "traditional and popular festivals" (30% ) and "live music places" (26%). Gender differences: girls are more focused on culture (libraries, cultural events, concerts) and traditions (popular festivals, groups to rediscover one's own territory); boys are focused instead on sporting facilities.
What do they think of employment, which is today's major problem? More than 60% of the respondents are willing to carry out their future working activity in a rural area, while a little less than half of them would like to become a farmer. As for their experience in the agricultural sector, nearly half of the boys (49%) and the majority of girls (73%) have no experience. The Countries where students have "more experience" in the agricultural sector are Finland (73% have had at least one experience in the sector), Poland (80%), Netherlands (65%), and Latvia (50%). Finland and Poland are also the Countries with the highest percentage of those who would like to become farmers (72% and 58%, respectively).
The following three elements are considered to be the main difficulties of starting an agricultural business: the "lack of resources for investments" is the main limiting factor for Italian students (66% of respondents); "land availability" for young people in Netherlands (85%), Malta (66%) and Finland (56%); "inadequate income to meet the family needs" for new generations in France (67% - it is interesting to note that French students chose as their main positive expectation the opportunity of working in an "adequate environment for families and children"), Belgium (58%), Latvia (53%) and Poland (51%). Although these elements are considered the most important limiting factors by all of the Countries, exception needs to be made for Latvia where the most important limiting factor for young people is linked to "agricultural activities' contingencies" such as natural disasters, damages caused by pests, etc.
"Livestock farming" is the agricultural sector mostly preferred by both boys and girls. In second place, for boys, there is the "wine sector", while for girls the "intensive horticulture and fruit farming sector". To conclude, let's take a look at the future: young people's perception seems to be even more in line with the direction being taken by agriculture in recent years. The way young people consider farms in the coming future is "a place producing quality food while protecting the environment and territory" (32% of weighted preferences) as well as "a multifunctional farm providing, besides food products, also green energy, services to people - nurseries, agritourisms, educational farms, direct sale of products - and employment opportunities" (20% of weighted preferences). For the future of agriculture, young people suggested to "focus on local, traditional and quality products and related certification procedures" (19% of weighted preferences), "on the short supply chain" (14% of weighted preferences) and "investing on young people in order to enhance the generational change" (11% of weighted preferences).