Revealing the use of farms and farmland by non-agricultural economic activities: The case of Flanders

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    Understanding land use change in urbanizing rural areas is challenging. Urbanizing rural rural areas are undergoing profound change in many regions, including the northern region of Belgium, Flanders. One driving force is the gradual conversion from an agricultural-based economy to a much more diverse economic base. The use of farms and farmland by non-agricultural economic activities is a part of this economic diversification, which is not only changing the rural economy but also the social structure and spatial and environmental quality. In spite of the abundant signs of these non-agricultural activities, systematic insight into the extent and the geography of this phenomenon is lacking.

    In this dissertation we have studied non-agricultural economic activities (NAEA) on farms and on farmland from different perspectives. Insights are gained on the adequacy of the geo-information system to represent this multi-functional spatial reality. By unlocking original information on the location, magnitude, area, origin and development pathways, this research breaks through the unavailability of information, the lack of attention in policy, and the scarcity of scientific research on NAEA on farms and farmland. The research focuses on economic diversification in
    Flanders, with an open mind to the universality of the theme. Data integration is proven to be a powerful instrument to provide systematic and detailed information of a land use type so far little known. The success of this data-integration method is in line with the more general call for an improved spatial data infrastructure to respond to the changing data needs of the society (Williamson, 2001; Birnie et al., 2005 Sang et al., 2005; Kok and Loenen,2005; Masser, 2011). This presented dataintegration method and the gained insights help to answer the wider call for spatial representation and analysis when dealing with complex and multi-functional rural areas (Antrop and Van Eetvelde, 2008; Prihmdahl and Swaffield, 2010; Campaña and Montes, 2014).

    The origin of the knowledge gap on the use of farms and farmland by non-agricultural economic activities was identified. The incompatibility between the characteristics of the data infrastructures and specific morphological and functional characteristics of non-agricultural economic land uses, challenges the assumptions of existing data infrastructures. NAEA prove to be a clear example of a phenomenon which operates
    beyond the reach of different existing land-use data infrastructures. Non-agricultural economic activities are mapped through innovative data integration of the economic census data in a GIS environment. The spatialization (or Geo-referencing) of the economic census and subsequent spatial and functional filters is developed as a method to inventory non-agricultural economic activities on farmland. The key for this successful integration turned out to be the address information.The developed data-integration method was applied in different case-study areas across Flanders, in order to collect original empirical data on the use of farms and farmland by non-agricultural economic activities. Farmland in Flanders is characterized by a substantial number of non-agricultural economic activities (64% of all enterprises located on farmland). From this perspective these activities are far from marginal. This case study also reveals that the non-agricultural economic activities include industrial activities (35% secondary sector) as well as service activities (65% tertiary sector), taking place on farms (36%), but also in other rural buildings (64%). An investigation of the occupation of farmland by these NAEA within six municipalities
    indicated that NAEA cover about 1% of the statutory farmland, whereas domestic gardens cover about 6% of the statutory farmland. An assessment of the individual activities indicated that 85% of the activities do not conform to the current spatial legislation. The use of farms and farmland by non-agricultural economic activities is an autonomous process managed by a multitude of entrepreneurs. The reason
    why individuals develop a NAEA are diverse. We identified seven pathways of NAEA development in rural areas in Flanders including three relating to a farming context and four to a non-farming context. The detailed knowledge about the different pathways for NAEA development provide insight into the local dimensions of economic diversification on farmland.

    The results also illustrate that the current policy lacks both data and efficiency. This lack of policy efficiency is a major challenge for spatial policy. An investigation of the perception of policymakers on this NAEA phenomenon indicates beside the lack of knowledge, two other sources of policy inefficiency: (1) the lack of law enforcement and (2) the conflicting opinions of policymakers. The conflicting opinions reflect
    a deeper conflict which goes beyond the discussion on the implementation of the spirit versus the letter of the law, and questions the envisioning of rural areas in a more fundamental way. Taking into account the wide diversity of motivations of entrepreneurs to develop, and the local policymakers to tolerate, a non-agricultural economic activity, we argue that the governance of the non-agricultural economic
    dynamic is a subject that requires broad debate. Bringing these findings together allows to conclude that the use of farms and farmland in Flanders is characterized by non-agricultural economic activities.

    This observation confirms the widely described trend that rural areas under urban influence are becoming increasingly multifunctional and complex. This study exemplifies the limitations of existing data infrastructures to map the real variation in land use. An improved rural data infrastructure is needed to fully understand the complexity and conflicts of different land-uses in peri-urban areas. A better understanding of the local dimension of rural development is essential to govern and manage rural land-use changes.
    Oorspronkelijke taalEngels
    PublicatiestatusGepubliceerd - jun-2015

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