Engaging with young people throughout MOVING

by | May 27, 2024 | MOVING

Author: Rachel Creaney (Social Economic and Geographical Sciences, James Hutton Institute)

One important aim of the H2020 MOVING project was to engage with young people living in and around our 23 Mountain Reference Landscapes, around the findings of the MOVING project and to understand their views and the potential roles that they could play in shaping the future of these rural mountain areas and value chains. To capture these views and experiences two youth engagement activities were planned in each MRL (Mountain Reference Landscape) throughout the project. Check the infographic to discover the highlights.

These events built on the findings of the recent Euromontana survey of young mountain people and the EU’s Long Term Vision for Rural Areas (LTVRA) to further explore the current and potential opportunities for young people to fully participate in their mountain areas and communities and aid the sustainable development of these areas.

This work was led by the Scottish partners (James Hutton Institute), and overall, 54 events were organised across the MRLs, engaging with over 1300 young people (generally aged under 25). Events tended to take the form of in-person workshops with school or university students, with invited presentations/discussions from either local value chain producers or those involved in the running of businesses or organisations within the local mountain areas (e.g. environmental organisations, researchers, youth organisations etc), along with discussions about how the young people view the future of their mountain areas (and their role in this futures/area). In several cases, fieldtrips to the mountain areas were also undertaken.

The events tended to contain discussions framed around three key questions:

  • How do the young people see the future of the region in 2040?
  • How would the participants improve the sustainability and resilience of the Value Chain?
  • What can be done to strengthen the role of young people in building the present and future of the mountain regions?

How do the young people see the future of the region in 2040?

Responses differed across all the MRLs. Positively, there was also a view in some cases that changes to the climate may necessitate a change to more sustainable farming practices and the development of new business ventures, or the need to protect more areas as nature reserves. For many, even with these pressures and predicted changes, mountain areas often represented calmer and ideal ‘ways of life’, albeit not without their (increasing) pressures. In some areas, there was also a recognition of the potential of their areas or optimism due to technical innovations such as robotic milking.

Young people were generally proud to live in and/or come from their rural regions, however, often they were also worried about the future of their regions due to issues such as lack of investment in services, infrastructure and jobs, as well as ongoing pressures from the current cost-of-living crisis. Issues such as these often result in the out-migration of young people from their regions, leading to issues with a ‘lack of capacity’ and some MRLs being understood as ‘areas of production’ rather than areas for living. Furthermore, there were concerns about the impacts of the changing climate, in terms of water shortages, and potential resulting land/mountain abandonment and loss of associated local ecological knowledge. There was also a frequent prediction of a move to larger-scale agriculture units, which could lead to less sustainable practices.

Spanish Sierra Morena, Slovakian and Romanian youth workshops.

How would the participants improve the sustainability and resilience of the Value Chain?

Economic suggestions

There were calls for more financial investments in the Value Chains, and a need to diversify the mountain economies, for example, through new short-supply chains and better links to existing global networks for their specific mountain products. Barriers for new entrants and young farmers wishing to farm in the MRLs could be reduced including lowering land prices, and investment in improving local services such as road infrastructure and public transport. Salaries in mountain-related jobs could also be increased to attract more young people. A greater appreciation for local food products was also highlighted.

Environmental suggestions

Maintaining, and even improving biodiversity and water management practices, aiming to avoid environmental damage, reducing pollution and improving education of both producers and consumers.

Socio-cultural suggestions

Better access to education and training resources, such as for marketing and e-commerce, and awareness building of (to outsiders) the importance of local food and agriculture. Infrastructure and services could also be improved. Better opportunities for networking and more accessible research, incorporating scientific and local knowledge, were also suggested.

What can be done to strengthen the role of young people in building the present and future of the mountain regions?

Community building and retaining was a frequently cited suggestion. Other suggestions ranged from creating new opportunities for budding entrepreneurs (including access to more land and creating new financial incentives), which requires good internet connectivity. The establishment of new cooperatives, both within the region and with those living outside the regions – to encourage new ideas to flourish. Improving job opportunities, infrastructure, and services in the regions as well as calls for education (both formal and informal) on good practices for sustainability and resilience. This is key, as the young people need to be able to remain living and working in the MRLs to subsequently help to improve the future visions of these areas. New job opportunities for young people could be created by increasing the products derived in the MRLs, or from the Value Chains directly. Additional opportunities for education and training on mountain-specific careers (e.g. rural careers fairs) were suggested as beneficial in many of the cases.

Looking to the future…

Participants also highlighted the importance of the Value Chains and MOVING in terms of maintaining population and livelihood in otherwise remote locations as well as bringing together different actors/activities in their MRL that may not otherwise have an opportunity to meet and build relationships. In one it was referred to as ‘a safe space’ for discussions between tourism, agriculture and governmental actors.

The findings of our youth engagement activities generally support those of Europe’s LTVRA and aim to add to the knowledge base (and policy discussions) around how best to meet the areas for action as highlighted in the LTVRA. Looking to the future, the young people called for the creation of new jobs by diversifying the products created in the Value Chains and improving access to land for budding entrepreneurs, as well as improving the awareness of rural careers within these mountain areas through careers fairs, networking events and sustained dissemination of research (e.g. MOVING) into mountain-based jobs and businesses.

There were also strong calls for better involvement of young people in rural and mountain area policymaking, and we offer some more specific recommendations for policymakers as well as practical recommendations in the full report which you can read here.