Roots Of Survival
“Urban areas rely on rural areas to meet their demands for food, water, wood, raw materials, etc., which are basically products of rural ecosystem services. Nevertheless, the benefit that rural areas gain from urban development, such as market, farm inputs, employment opportunities, etc. should not be overlooked.” Gebre et al.
As we blast into a future that appears evermore sci-fi, with AI, nanotechnology, stem cell research and greater connectivity, it seems urban societies are growing ever more detached from a critical basis of their existence.
Roots of Survival
Agriculture. Without it, societies collapse! But when all we see are finished products, the magnitude of this reality is lost. Farming was and remains central to human development. However, increasingly efficient ways of processing and delivery tied with mass exoduses to urban centres have altered perceptions of nature.
The Urban Machine
Growing physical separation of urban centres from food and material resources has made consumers indifferent towards “agricultural landscapes, and unaware of the multiple ecosystem services provided by rural areas.” Urban centres are growing exponentially. As employment opportunities increase, there tends to be a decline in rural development.
Certain economic issues sometimes deceive us of equal rural-urban growth. If left unexamined, some circumstances of urban-rural migration create illusions of healthy development. This often appears when urban rent is high, and people are forced to move to hinterlands.
- Spatial: people, goods, money, information
- Sectoral: agriculture, manufacturing industries and services
- Governance: rural-urban government ties
Demand From A Distance
For these elements to function healthily, the ground must provide. Yet, current demand and policies around food and materials put ecosystem services at risk and, by default, our whole survival system. Detached urban systems put immense stress on agricultural services, forced to use harmful methods to keep up with demand through:
- Favouring less sustainable crops and growing practices.
- Production, transport, and use of pesticides and fertilisers
- Unsustainable water use and polluted drainage
- Overuse of animal antibiotics on large-scale farms
Managing the problem
A logical route is in sight. Adopting systems that favour ecological well-being is our means to socio-economic growth and thriving rural-urban economies.
Ecological economics diverges from standard economics, a root of environmental and human deterioration. Put simply; ecological economics accepts there are biophysical limits to economic growth. If we are to continue growing, it needs to be within an ecological framework. An environmental basis to economics will alter approaches to resource extraction, improve rural-urban communication and help balance growth in both spheres. Robert Costanza, an expert in this field, thinks an ecologically driven approach “means a shift away from sort of brute-force competition towards more cooperative, alliance-building, stable kinds of relationships.”
If we apply ecological economics to a specific sector, such as the timber industry, instances where it runs efficiently result in human and environmental benefits. Finland offers a great example, sporting the most extensive tree coverage in Europe, 75%. Wood has also remained the primary building material in Finland throughout history. Here forestry provides timber for buildings, pulp biofuel, and local jobs. In addition, it engages with urban community education on these processes. Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry ensures human-driven forces collaborate with conservation organisations.
Finland’s ecologically conscious forestry has proven successful. As a result, Finnish expertise is sought from Mongolia to the US. It may prove trickier elsewhere, especially in the temperate UK and Ireland, where tree coverage is among the lowest in Europe. But innovative biomaterials may be the answer to rural-urban linkages in temperate regions.
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