Forest bioeconomy to counter rural depopulation in Spain

Through the financial support of the European Regional Development Funds, the city of Cuenca is establishing its own "Urban Forest Innovation Lab": a cross-cutting and entrepreneurship initiative based on the forest bioeconomy.

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The city of Cuenca in the region of Castile La Mancha, Spain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The city of Cuenca has the most important urban forest area in Spain, and the third largest in the European Union with 53,000 hectares of municipal ownership. The forest bioeconomy is a source of economic, energy, environmental and social benefits in Europe, but Cuenca is not taking advantage of this potential and has the lowest rate of forest enterprises in Spain.

In order to tackle the underuse of the region’s forest mass and other problems related to rural depopulation, the City Council of Cuenca together with other entities such as the Government of Castilla-La Mancha, Khora Urban Thinkers consultancy, the Istituto Europeo di Design, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Polytechnic University of Madrid, are carrying out an Urban Innovative Action (UIA) in the city. This is an initiative funded by the European Commission that provides urban areas throughout Europe with resources to test new and unproven solutions to address the urban challenges they are facing, and see how these work in practice.

Cuenca’s Urban Innovation Action proposal launches the Urban Forest Innovation Lab (UFIL) with the aim of boosting forest-related business activities in the city. UFIL seeks to develop the urban economy based on the forest, supporting the creation of start-ups and new jobs based on the forest bioeconomy and applying a holistic approach (energy, construction, industry, food, wood…). This initiative will train forest bioeconomy companies with a project-based learning programme focused on innovation, design and creativity for a greater sustainable use of Cuenca’s forests.

The innovation of this project lies in the leadership and involvement of the city in a forestry initiative with the aim of developing a new dynamic connection between urban and rural around a natural asset. This action consolidates a training model based on projects applied to forest bioeconomy, complemented in turn by a business development programme.

With this initiative, innovative small and medium enterprises that harness forest assets in a sustainable way will arise in Cuenca. The established companies will exploit the forest with local resources, generate new jobs and help the community perceive the forest as a profitable and attractive professional future. The total budget of the UFIL project is 4.9 million Euros. The project is 80% co-financed with European Regional Development funds and will be extended until 31 October 2021.