Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary General, at the Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs
Madrid, 16 February 2009
Minister, Secretary of State, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure to be with you for the presentation of the study on Spain's rural policy. In these very difficult times in which the financial crisis and global recession have brought our economies to a virtual standstill, countries must not lose sight of their structural challenges.
Although the importance of the rural domain has been shrouded by the uncertainty generated by this exceptionally severe crisis, the rural world remains important. And its huge economic potential offers an exceptional opportunity to get our economies moving again.
Turning the rural sector into an engine of growth is now more important than ever.
The study of Spain's rural policy forms part of a new generation of OECD studies. Following the presentation in 2006 of our report entitled "The New Rural Paradigm", in which we call for the reinvention of rural policy under the motto "Rural is not synonymous with agriculture; Rural is not synonymous with decline", we have made a deeper analysis of the change in the rural setting and policies through national studies, such as the one we are presenting today for Spain.
I am pleased to report that this first study of Spain's rural policy highlights significant progress. The results of the evaluation are clearly positive.
At a time of economic uncertainty and growing unemployment, it is doubly important to analyse and recognize what has been done well, for it is this type of progress that will allow a quicker return to sustainable long-term growth.
The study of Spain's rural policy is important for two key reasons:
1. Firstly, because in Spain one can clearly see the new roles being played by rural areas in the country's economy.
2. And secondly, because few countries have shown this capacity to "reinvent" rural policy, as Spain has done over the last two years.
The transformation of rural areas in Spain is clear to see. As in all OECD countries, it has been accompanied by a reduction in employment in the primary sector, which has shrunk from 20% of total employment in 1975 to just 5% in 2008, and a significant decrease in this sector's GDP share, from 5% in 1980 to 3% today.
Nonetheless, productivity in this sector has grown faster than the European average since the second half of 1990s, and Spain has produced the third largest expansion in agricultural output among all OECD countries.
It is also notable that in the current inhospitable international climate, Spain's agrifood industry has proved stronger than it other industries and also stronger than agrifood industries elsewhere. Spain demonstrates that "Rural is not synonymous with agriculture" and "Rural is not synonymous with decline". Over the last decade, the manufacturing and services sectors in rural areas have grown by 30% and 21%, respectively.
The study shows how the most diversified rural areas have been those that have had the largest GDP per capita, the highest population growth – a clear indicator of success in rural areas – the largest expansion in employment, and the lowest levels of unemployment.
It also shows how rural areas can contribute to the national economy and to the solution of global problems by making the most of their own assets. New local economies have thus been developing in outlying urban zones, creating large numbers of jobs.
Rural tourism grew by an average of 20% per year between 2001 and 2007, creating about 15,000 new jobs and doubling its accommodation capacity. Spain is an example for the international community in this area, and also in the development of renewable energies, which have an increasing role to play in the rural economy.
Naturally, the study also refers to major challenges faced by rural areas. These include the depopulation of specific zones, the ageing and masculinization of the rural population, the integration of immigrant people, the provision of public utilities in remote areas, the sustainable water and natural resource use, and desertification.
How can we address this wide range of rural challenges and opportunities? How can we tackle them consistently and efficiently from the various levels of government?
The Spanish government's answer to these questions has also been exemplary.
Two years ago, when Spain suggested this study, the three main groups of stakeholders operating in the rural area – which we can refer to as "agrarianists", "ruralists", and "environmentalists" – each were each ploughing their own furrow (or "su propia carreta”, as we say in Mexico). During the months in which the study was being undertaken, Spain decided to bring them under one roof by creating the Ministry of the Environment, and Rural and Marine Affairs. This has brought consistency to the country's rural policy.
Spain has been able to "reinvent" the institutional design for dealing with rural issues, by passing the Sustainable Rural Development Act in December 2007. This legislation has made it possible to create the Interministerial Commission and the Council for Sustainable Rural Development, together with the currently ongoing planning and preparation of the First Sustainable Rural Development Programme.
Through these changes, Spain is responding to a need that was becoming increasingly evident: to have a rural policy that not only looks beyond agriculture, but also one that goes further than the European Union's rural development policies. We know that Spain has gained a tremendously from these policies; but it also true that they proved insufficient to address the complexity of the challenges and opportunities facing rural Spain today.
It is important to note, as the study does, that it was some of the autonomous communities a few years ago that started to make institutional changes needed to move towards a "broad-based" rural policy, which it is now intended to implement nationally.
As you can imagine, conducting a study of rural policy in this changing setting posed a considerable challenge in itself; but it also provided a unique opportunity at an early stage to analyse and discuss the implications of the changes proposed and to make a number of relevant recommendations.
In this regard, we are pleased that the study has proved useful and we are deeply grateful for the seriousness the Ministry has shown towards the OECD's recommendations.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are currently in a highly complex situation, experiencing the effects of globalization's first major crisis. This adverse setting will of course have adverse impacts on rural economies. Paradoxically however, given the urgent need to find new engines for economic growth and job creation, rural zones can play a fundamental role, as has been shown here in Spain.
Given the steep decline of key sectors such as automobiles, construction, real estate or tourism, the capacity of governments to coordinate their sector policies consistently in the rural area will of course be a strength.
In the OECD we are convinced that the strengthening of Spain's rural policy provides a very useful tool that will help this country emerge from the crisis more quickly and create the decent jobs that the Spanish people and its immigrant populations so richly deserve.
Thank you very much.