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  • Writer's pictureOffset Trail


On November 10 and 11, 2022, we attended the IV Forestry Congress of the Valencian Community, held in Requena. The conferences were attended by more than 400 people related to the sector, such as representatives, technicians, students, businessmen, members of associations, etc. The central theme this year was rural depopulation, a topic that was addressed from different angles in the different thematic tables and debates.

The event began on Thursday with the official opening by Mario Sánchez González, Mayor of Requena, Isabel García Hernández, Deputy of the Catarroja and Requena Foreman Schools, and Elena Cebría Calvo, Autonomous Secretariat of Territorial Cohesion and Policies against Depopulation. After the presentation, the inaugural conference was given, entitled Agroforestry spaces, natural resources and vertebration of the territory: analysis and diagnosis, by Rafael Delgado Artés, President of the Valencian Forestry Platform and professor at the UPV. In it, he highlighted how from the 19th century to the 21st century there has been a 50% reduction in the rural population, which has caused an increase in the forest area due to the loss of agricultural and traditional activities (livestock, grazing, exploitation forestry...). The C.V. It now has more forest area than ever, but it is poorly (or not at all) managed, which means a greater risk of Large Forest Fires. Anecdotally, he explained how a 3,000-hectare fire generated the same greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as the city of Valencia for one year. It is therefore evident that addressing rural depopulation and reducing the incidence of forest fires are key to combating climate change.

After a short break for morning tea, the event resumed with the first of four conferences. This initial one addressed the issue of Financing of rural municipalities and their problems. The speaker was Francisco Velasco Caballero, Professor of Administrative Law at the Autonomous University of Madrid. During his presentation, he explained in detail that Spain has poor regional management which makes management difficult at lower levels. The international model of rural development is regional, not municipal, because a group of municipalities is more effective. But not all the territory has a regional character, you only have to do it when it is logical, not like Aragon, which has been fully regionalized and Zaragoza is a city and region. In addition, he detailed how urban municipalities achieve economic sufficiency with their own income (taxes), while rural ones do not, and therefore do not cover mandatory services. This deficit is supplemented with transfers, money from the central government and the Autonomous Communities. In addition, the costs for rural town halls and municipalities are higher than for urban ones.

The solution is a relatively simple concept, but difficult to apply due to legal complexity: financial leveling, reducing contributions to urban municipalities and giving more to rural ones. Spain currently has an ordinary financing model in which the same distribution percentage is granted to all municipalities, a system that favors urban municipalities. In other words, the Spanish legal framework is designed (not consciously, but rather by accident) to favor those who have the most and abandon those who need the most.

After a break for lunch, the second thematic round table, Planning and Territorial Management in Rural Municipalities and their Difficulties, took place. The speaker was José Manuel Palau Navarro, partner in charge of the Gómez-Acebo & Pombo law firm in the Valencian Community. In his presentation, he explained how complexity and administrative delay favor rural depopulation due to the impossibility of carrying out actions in an agile manner.

In addition, the current urban legislation is designed for highly urbanized areas and is not practical or useful in rural areas. The debate of ideas between the public and the speakers after this table was interesting due to the presence of several people in the public, residents of small municipalities who experience this problem on a daily basis and who expressed their discomfort with the treatment they receive.

The last act of the day was an open debate entitled Towards the collapse of rural territories. Is its reversal possible? With José Sierra Herrero, a journalist specializing in the Environment, acting as moderator, the debate included the participation of Artur Aparici Castillo, Emeritus Professor at the Universitat Jaume I, and Eduardo Rojas Briales, Dean of the Official College of Forestry Engineers. The position defended by the speakers was that there is currently an urban-centric conservationism, imposed by the part of the citizenry that resides in cities and that has no connection or knowledge of the rural world or of the functioning of the ecosystems present in it. This conservationism is excessive and prevents the performance of traditional activities, such as felling trees or grazing, which involve sustainable management of the territory. As a result, there is an excess of regulations and restrictions to carry out any action in rural areas. If this situation is not reversed, the rural environment and the people who inhabit it have no chance of seeing their future improved and their standard of living increased.

On Friday the day began with the third thematic round table, The role of the councils in the face of depopulation: actions and projects. This talk was headed by Vicente Gil Olmedo, General Secretary of the Valencian Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, who acted as moderator, Francisco Javier Sendra Mengual, Deputy for Emergencies, Human Resources and Demographic Challenge of the Alicante Provincial Council and Ramiro Rivera Gracia , Deputy for Fire Prevention, Rural Development and Policies against Depopulation of the Valencia Provincial Council. It was a debate in which the importance of public institutions in the fight against rural abandonment was stressed.

After the morning tea break, the fourth and last thematic round table took place, Communication in the forestry sector as an ally against depopulation. The task of moderating fell on Marta Corella Gaspar, Mayor of Orea and the speaker was Odile Rodríguez de la Fuente, daughter of the famous naturalist and broadcaster Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and President of the Foundation that bears his name. It included the participation of Arantza Pérez Oleaga, from PEFC Spain and Pilar Valbuena Pérez, communication consultant. As is evident, it was a table made up entirely of women and that was precisely one of the issues addressed: the role of women in rural areas. As in many other sectors, their presence is less, which is an even greater problem when it comes to trying to reverse rural abandonment, since the vast majority of rural municipalities have a very aged population and a generational replacement is required. which is completely impossible without the presence of women. Emphasis was also placed on the fact that young people are the ones who are really going to suffer from the problem of climate change and that, therefore, they must make an effort to be trained in matters related to the forestry and environmental sectors and continue to exert pressure so that the living conditions of the rural municipalities continue to improve and thus have the possibility of residing in them and carrying out their life project without having to give up basic services present in cities but less and less accessible in the rural world.

Once the table was finished, the closing conference was given, whose introduction was given by Diego Marín Fabra, General Director of Forest Fire Prevention of the Generalitat Valenciana. The main presentation, entitled Depopulation from the perspective of the European Commission, was made by María Gafo Gómez-Zamalloa, Deputy Head of the General Directorate for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Scheduled for after the closing conference there was a field trip to visit the "El Almendro" farm for forest practices and experiences in El Rebollar. Unfortunately, due to heavy rain, it had to be cancelled and the program went directly to the Closing presentation and Conclusions. Consuelo Alfonso Pérez, President of AMUFOR, Jeannette Segarra Sales, General Director of the Valencian Anti-Depopulation Agenda (AVANT) and Adolfo Miravet Segarra, President of the Association of Foresters of the Valencian Community (ASILVAL) participated in it. Jeannette García made a presentation on all the measures that AVANT was implementing to make life easier in rural areas, such as the installation of ATMs in municipalities without financial entities, forestry activities, promotion of tourism to attract revenue, etc. The members of ASILVAL claimed that they feel helpless because the institutions make it very difficult for them to carry out their work as forest owners. With this event the IV Forestry Congress was concluded.

At Offset Trail we are grateful to all the organizations and people who organized the congress, since in the current climate crisis paradigm we consider it crucial to carry out events of this nature that serve as a meeting point for all the agents involved in the sector and allow the exchange of knowledge and experiences. Our personal assessment is that rural abandonment is a serious problem that has been worsening, and at the same time ignored, for several decades and has now reached the tipping point where it is crucial to reverse the trend. The presence of young people in rural municipalities that represent a generational change and that also contribute new knowledge and training is essential to guarantee the survival of the rural environment. In addition, a reduction in bureaucracy and legislation, often absurd, is essential to facilitate the performance of management activities, thus guaranteeing adequate health of agroforestry ecosystems and reducing the effects of climate change. The first step must be taken by governments and institutions, which must offer adequate living conditions so that people who are interested in living and developing our activity in rural areas can do so without having to sacrifice rights that are guaranteed in cities.

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