Theme Farming and rural areas within an urbanized society

ILVO wants to work towards a livable countryside, with room for agriculture, nature and forest in both the literal and figurative senses of the word. Just as in other European regions, our countryside is experiencing fast and strong urbanization. The pace is hardly slowing down, despite the measures that have been taken. The phenomenon has an enormous impact on the countryside and its users. What emerges is a peri-urban area, with both rural and urban characteristics. The wealth of functions present in such a periurban area offers opportunities but also leads to conflicts. Urban desires such as rest and relaxation, recreation, tourism, private space and exclusive living put pressure on the more traditional functions of agriculture, nature and forest.

Rural development

A thorough social discussion about the use of our open space is sorely needed. We aim to feed that discussion by mapping gradual, subtle changes in land use, as well as their impact on ecosystem services such as food production, biodiversity, water buffering and cooling. ILVO also seeks solutions for multiple land use and explores innovative concepts and alliances between different rural actors.

Mapping sneaky changes

The urbanization of the countryside not only causes open space to disappear under pavement, but also changes the use of the remaining, unpaved open space. Because these changes are subtle, gradual and spread out across Flanders, they attract less attention than large, planned shifts, such as an announced port expansion. ILVO has therefore been mapping and objectifying these land use changes for years. In this way, we provide figures and insights into the evolution of the agricultural area and its users, the interweaving of agriculture and nature, but also into other forms of land use, such as converting land into horse pastures or private gardens, and the use of farmsteads for non-agricultural purposes.

ILVO continues to monitor these (sometimes invisible) rural trends and place them on society’s agenda. Specific attention is paid to the increasing centralization of agricultural land by a few large players, as well as to the role and position of public land, the spatial consequences of the declining number of farmers, and the changes in our agricultural and food system. We complement these quantitative and cartographic insights with insights into causes and possible solutions.

Added value of shared use of space

Because the open space in Flanders is limited and the social expectations are high, an economical an manifold use of space is necessary. ILVO is proactively looking for innovative solutions to this challenge. Among other things, we focus on policy strategies for the preservation and management of open space. In collaboration with the partners in our living labs, we experiment with various forms of multiple uses of space, such as agroforestry.

We are also facilitating dialogue between different actors, such as agriculture and nature, and setting up new partnerships. In addition, we are examining whether success formulas from abroad, such as agricultural parks, are also feasible in Flanders. The profitability of the proposed earning models is a point of attention in all research areas, both for the farmers and for the other parties involved.

Seeking alliances

Numerous actors come together in the countryside and in the agricultural sector. ILVO wants to map and understand their different interests and expectations. By means of multi-actor processes at home and abroad, we stimulate knowledge exchange. Time and again, this turns out to be an important component of successful cooperation and society. Learning processes between actors are therefore also an interesting object of study. Among other things, we investigate how co-creation leads to innovation and how farmers can be motivated to try out innovative techniques with effective tools. Finally, we also actively involve citizens and other actors in our research and explore the possibilities of citizen science as a new, possible form of data collection.

Well-being and livability

In our urbanized and globalized world, stress among farmers is a growing problem. ILVO investigates what causes this stress, how farmers deal with stress in general, and what effect this has on their well-being. In the search for solutions, we rely on an integrated approach in which different actors and strategies play a role. Besides the well-being of farmers, the general livability of rural areas also deserves attention. Among other things, we explore whether and how digitalization can be part of the solution.

Contact an expert

Elke Rogge

Elke Rogge

Scientific director of Social Sciences department


See also

Video 12/04/2024

Farmers learning from farmers

Farmers learning from farmers
Simon Lox organises Farm Demonstration Networks, groups of 10 to 15 farmers who test new practices on their farms and then visit each other's farms to discuss.
Press release 20/03/2024

Expo Gentse Gronden tells story of public farmland

Copyright Michiel Hendryckx STAM Gentse Gronden campaign image
Ghent's city museum STAM and ILVO are joining forces for the 'Gentse Gronden' expo. The exhibition exposes an unknown and intriguing chapter in the history of the city of Ghent.