Regions4 participated in the First International Forum on Urban-Rural Linkages (IFURL) by invitation of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) due to our contribution to the Urban-Rural Linkages Guiding Principles and Framework for Action to Advance Integrated Territorial Development. Regions4 moderated a session on innovation in rural economy composed by Songyang County, FAO, IFAD, and ICLEI.

The First International Forum on Urban-Rural Linkages (IFURL) was held in Songyang County, Lishui City, Zhejiang Province, China from 11 to 13 November 2019. The forum was co-hosted and co-organized by the UN-Habitat, Zhejiang Provincial Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Lishui Municipal People’s Government and the Songyang County People’s Government. The theme of the forum was “Rural Revitalization through Innovations and Valorization” and the forum has brought together more than 200 representatives from 18 international organizations.

The forum explored topics of rural architecture, innovations in tourism, agriculture, culture and heritage, rural economic development, among other topics, focusing on systems thinking and innovative practices of rural revitalization in the context of ecological conservation. It discussed how to achieve urban and rural sustainable development through rural revitalization and valorization.

The IFURL was an opportunity to showcase Songyang’s and other places’ innovative practices of reframing the rural value system and their commitment to rural revitalization. In this context, the forum explored issues such as redefining urban-rural relations, strengthening cooperation, and exploring the positive links between urban and rural economy, society, and environment, in order to promote the sustainable development of urban and rural communities. The programme included field visits that showed Songyang’s “acupuncture approach,” which mixes traditional culture with concepts of modern lifestyle and the application of science and technology in rural areas. It demonstrates that by centring on creative transformation and innovative development, culture becomes the driver of rural revitalization.

Regions4 Policy Officer, Ivy Moraes at “Innovation in Rural Economy” session

Regions4 Policy Officer, Ivy Moraes, moderated the session “Innovation in Rural Economy” held in the Shangtian village. Li Hanqin, Magistrate of Songyang County, presented the opportunities and unique value of villages in environmental, cultural and economic aspects. Panagiotis Karfakis, an economist of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), discussed how the economic and productive structure transformations help to reduce poverty and accelerate productivity through systemic approaches that valorize diversification. David Suttie, Global Engagement Specialist of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said that urbanization needs to build on rural transformation and stressed the need for rural communities empowerment, particularly the ones that are not usually recognized, such as the indigenous people, farmers, youth, and women. Thiago Soares Barbizan, Senior Officer of ICLEI World Secretariat, brought a local government case study to discuss food security, economic development, and urban and peri-urban agriculture.

Regions4 concluded the session highlighting four crucial messages of the work that the network has been promoting in the past years. First, an integrated approach across the urban-rural continuum must be reflected in the thematic interconnection: “We cannot dissociate and isolate the discussion on food from the one on health, land, water and sanitation, biodiversity, climate resilience, energy, sustainable consumption and production, waste, mobility, economic development and employment, gender equality, culture, and so on.” Second, the need for a whole-of-government approach that breaks siloed thinking, fosters greater internal integration and ensures policy coherence as well as a whole-of-society approach that promotes a renewed structure for the participation and collaboration of civil society, private sector, and other stakeholders. Third, ensuring coherence of all levels of government, including the participation of subnational governments in decision making when appropriate. In the urban-rural linkages, the role played by regional governments is key to avoid policy gaps, aggregate local projects, upscale local initiatives, replicate good practices, and tackle cross-boundaries challenges. Fourth, initiatives such as the IFURL that promote the dialogue among a broad range of stakeholders are welcomed and strengthen the cooperation and solidarity principles that should guide international agendas and boost even more knowledge exchange and development of capacities. All four messages are aligned with the Urban-Rural Linkages Guiding Principles and Framework for Action to Advance Integrated Territorial Development and Regions4 is proud to promote it among our member regions.

Other Regions4 members, such as the Basque Country and Mexico’s National Association of State Environmental Authorities (Asociación Nacional de Autoridades Ambientales Estatales – ANAAE, in Spanish) represented the regional governments’ voice at the IFURL. They delivered keynote speeches about the valorization of rural areas through an integrated territorial approach. Magdalena Ruiz, CEO of ANNAE stressed that mainstreaming biodiversity is one of the strategic axes of development in every State government in Mexico. They have been building partnerships with multiple stakeholders, notably the Group of Leading Subnational Governments toward the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (GoLS). Arantza Leturiondo, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Environment, Land Planning and Housing of Basque Country, explained the Basque territorial model that brings a new sustainable and resilient relationship between the urban, rural and natural.

Finally, the IFURL adopted the Songyang Consensus that will be available soon in the UN-Habitat webpage. The co-organizers reached six items of consensus, including one that emphasizes the “development, documentation and dissemination of inspiring practices on strengthening rural revitalization and urban-rural linkages.” The IFURL will be a platform to foster cooperation and exchange “to jointly build sustainable urban and rural communities, to protect rural areas’ original distinctive characteristics, culture, and ecology, and to achieve a balanced, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous development.”

For further information on urban-rural linkages, read the UN-Habitat first edition of the URL newsletter released during the IFURL.