The final DESIRA conference took place on the 26th and 27th of April 2023 in Brussels, Belgium, and featured a range of speakers discussing the challenges and opportunities of digitalisation in rural areas. The conference’s opening keynote speaker, Gianluca Brunori from the University of Pisa, emphasised that “digitalisation is a social-technical transformation that involves winners and losers, with a need to understand the context of digitalisation to address its challenges.”
The conference started with a keynote speech by Evangelia Mourmoura from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), who discussed the role of digitalisation in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy. She highlighted that the EU’s agriculture sector faces challenges such as environmental sustainability and income generation for farmers, which can be addressed through digitalisation.
Pascale Van Doren from the Rural Pact Support Office discussed the role of the Rural Pact in promoting digitalisation in rural areas. The Rural Pact is a part of an EU-wide initiative to promote cooperation between different stakeholders, including national and local governments, NGOs, and universities.
After that, Franc Bogovič, MEP, Chair of RUMRA & Smart Villages Intergroup, Radim Sršeň, Deputy Minister for Regional Development of the Czech Republic and CoR Member and Fabio Boscaleri, Coordinator of the ERIAFF, participated in a high-level panel to discuss the role of policies fostering rural digitalisation, representing the three realities of the rural perspective, local, national and European. Finally, Isabel Carvalhais MEP, rapporteur of the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas, Member of the RUMRA & Smart Villages Intergroup, closed the first day of the Conference with a keynote speech on the importance of rural digitalisation for the future of rural communities.
During the second day, Alexia Rouby from DG Agri highlighted the various actions the European Commission is taking to realise a digital future for rural areas. Stavros Kalapothas from DG Connect spoke about how digitalisation is transforming rural areas and the goal “to reach to all populated areas with fixed broadband connectivity as well as 5G by 2030.”
Similarly, Arianna Pasa from DG Agri presented the priorities of the EU research agenda aimed at improving rural digitalisation, highlighting the upcoming calls and opportunities for projects in the field, while Yulia Barabanova from the Joint Research Center shared insights from the last JRC-Agri report, shedding light on the long-term implications of digital transitions for farmers and rural communities. Together, their presentations provided valuable perspectives on the challenges and opportunities in this critical area of research.
To wrap up the session, Gianluca Brunori and Doris Marquardt provided a comprehensive overview of the key takeaways from DESIRA and shared their vision for the contribution of the project.
The DESIRA conference highlighted the importance of understanding the context of digitalisation and its potential to address the challenges facing the EU’s agriculture sector, the need for integrated solutions and coordination among different rural policies to ensure sustainable digitalisation that benefits all stakeholders. In addition to its primary purpose, the conference also served as a platform for spreading DESIRA’s results and tools. Several presentations and workshops were conducted to showcase the DESIRA Policy Road Map and
Recommendations, the DESIRA Ethical Code, and various digital tools and experiences developed by the consortium. The overarching goal of all the activities, which include two sessions of pitches from projects, was to promote engagement, foster participation, and establish meaningful connections among the participants.