The challenge of technology to stop rural depopulation

It had been many years since Otero de Herreros (Segovia, 900 inhabitants) had seen so many children. Buses and buses with up to 600 schoolchildren go to this town near the Segovian mountains to teach students, mostly from rural schools, how technology will play a key role so that their generation does not have to exile itself to the urban, as they did so many that preceded it. The Cotec Foundation has prepared an innovation festival to show how new technologies can have an impact in unpopulated areas, like this one in Segovia, surrounded by barren moors. The meeting, which brings together disparate initiatives united with this objective, was inaugurated by the King, Felipe VI, who visited the stalls to learn about these projects.

The fair, under the name Imperdible 05, includes all kinds of activities to calibrate how computerization and automation have much to contribute to, first, retain the rural exodus and, later, attract those overwhelmed by urban demand. The kids run around the attractions while they explain how to create jobs in the primary and tourism sectors thanks to lavender in Tiedra (Valladolid), how the worms serve as nutritious and even tasty food and generate 250 jobs in Salamanca or the functionalities of virtual reality, 3D printers or digital reconstructions so that the towns at demographic risk and their businesses have an escape valve.

The Cotec forum has brought together minors, to teach them how there is hope in the places they come from, and leaders as those responsible for the decisions that stimulate the rupture of this dynamic. In addition to Felipe VI, the Minister for Ecological Transition and Third Vice President of the Government, Teresa Ribera (PSOE) and the President of the Junta de Castilla y León, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco (PP), toured with great expectation the stalls and mills that each offered. One of the winners, perhaps because it gave away pieces of grilled corn on the cob, corresponded to the Huercasa company, based in the Segovian province for more than 40 years and which provides some 400 jobs in high season, mostly for women. Ana San Romualdo details that the company has based its growth on adding value to the raw material so that, through a technological process based on heat, it can be packed for months and the corn does not deteriorate in just a few days. “We also created a country music festival so that the people there can enjoy the culture, which is not only found in the big cities,” highlights San Romualdo, who believes that the towns have in modernization “an opportunity to differentiate themselves.”

The presence of some chickens at the entrance to the warehouse fitted out to accommodate these sites has also aroused the curiosity of the students, although these, elusive, avoided their caresses. The chicken coop is on behalf of Voluta.coop, an entity created by two young engineers, aged 28 and 31, who after drowning “in confinement, trapped in flats overlooking a patio of lights”, decided to take a step towards what that they were passionate about: the rural environment. One of them, Axel Pena, considers that the “rural revitalization” that helps first to retain and then to attract inhabitants can be achieved with workshops like his, which include training in digital skills to modernize something as simple as chicken coops, which are can control remotely. “Technology has distanced us from the towns and we want it to be the opposite now,” says Pena, who has baptized his plan “Chickens to the rescue” to encourage those territories in both agriculture and livestock and tourism.

The Diputación de Málaga Ferris wheel participates in the national festival of innovation for the depopulation of Cotec.
The Diputación de Málaga Ferris wheel participates in the national festival of innovation for the depopulation of Cotec.MALAGA COUNTY COUNCIL (Europa Press)

A few meters further on is Sara Donoso, part of the Galician Agency for Innovation, who emphasizes how Galicia also has large unpopulated areas and that thanks to these impulses they are able to understand how to alleviate these shortcomings. This is how they seek to combine traditional production methods with recycling or the circular economy, a very repeated concept this Friday in Segovia, towards a “cooperation that has a positive impact on nature”. This is how chairs are built from old fishing nets or scrap metal or sponges are created from plant remains. José Manuel Salado has come from Malaga, who presents Crafteando, a project that, through the Minecraft video game, allows the generation of realistic recreations of what an area of ​​a town would look like if new elements were built, such as swimming pools, courts or hospitals, the main demands of the young woman audience. “We fuse representation with reality to ask the City Councils how to do it,” says Salado, who believes that in this way “knowledge from below” is promoted so that “from above” the long-awaited reforms can be undertaken.

The land also bears its fruits, animals in the case of Tebrio, a company from Salamanca that by raising thousands of worms has managed to secure some 250 jobs. Children are initially wary of insects, but soon discover that these foods, crunchy and vanilla-flavoured, are not so bad and serve as natural sustenance for livestock feed in a sustainable way, as Adriana Casillas extols. The “Tenebrio molitor” or mealworm allows to reduce the carbon footprint and interest girls like Mara Amat, Sara Maya and Vega Domínguez, between 10 and 11 years old. They come from El barco de Ávila (Ávila) and affirm, with the lesson well learned, that solar panels or wind turbines are the future for the energy maintenance of their communities. Mara boasts of having both options installed, along with a splendid orchard, in her house.

The new times, represented by the fact that many of the schoolchildren take out their cell phones to take photos of the monarch, are also noticeable in the businesses that have arisen far from the asphalt. Lavender Tiedra, based in Tiedra (Valladolid), brings the scent of lavender to the entire venue and has filled the Instagram of famous and not so famous thanks to its 450 hectares of agricultural land dedicated to this aromatic plant. There the Fonseca have managed to generate activity both in the primary, referring to the care of these purple fields, and in tourism. These groups attracted by posturing also spend the night, eat in restaurants or visit the region, so that the circle is closed. The managers of the company add that this winter they are going to incorporate virtual reality glasses so that even in winter, when the plantations do not have flowers, travelers can know how it would look.

The hubbub inside contrasts with the stillness of Otero de Herreros and its surroundings, little given to such a racket. Juan Santamaría, a neighbor from the vicinity, looks with curiosity at all the commotion that has been mounted. Santamaría, a veterinarian by profession, trusts innovation to make the countryside grow and cushion depopulation, but he clarifies: “This is very good, but what is below is missing.” In his house, as in many others in Castilla y León or other communities affected by these deficiencies, the Internet does not reach well and they have to resort to the satellite. “How are the young people going to stay?”, reflects the man, who issues a warning for when the festival and so much celebration is over: “You have to do more than appear, it is no longer enough to just look good”.

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