Sonia Jorge is going to open a grocery store in her town, Cachorrilla (Cáceres), with 86 inhabitants. Some freelancers will think it is suicide, but she is clear about it. Not surprisingly, she is also the owner of the only bar in this municipality, which is among the smallest in Extremadura, in the Alagón region, 77 kilometers from the city of Cáceres.
It is also true that Sonia performs this jump with a net. The Diputación de Cáceres launched the initiative ‘El commisato revive’ at the beginning of the year to provide a grocery store to five towns in the province that do not have this service. In the case of Cachorrilla, there has not been a store for 20 years. The next ones will open in Berrocalejo, Carrascalejo, Casas de Don Antonio and Ruanes.
During the next five years Jorge will have covered the payments to the Social Security, the electricity and the water of his establishment, which in this case is a prefabricated module assigned by the City Council that has been installed next to the bar. It is the main attraction of a novel measure with which the Cacereña Provincial Council wants to face depopulation, encourage entrepreneurship and keep the towns alive. In short, give them a second chance.
Sonia Jorge took over her local bar just before the pandemic. But the situation that the hospitality industry has suffered due to the health crisis has not made a dent in his optimism. “Everything is improving, and in Cachorrilla we did not have any cases of COVID and life became practically normal,” he says.
Despite the size of his town, which does not reach 50 inhabitants during the week, Jorge is clear that a store is a necessary service that will generate demand because “on weekends more people and university students come who are out and in August there are a lot of people every year. ”
But the decision of this entrepreneur also has a social aspect. During the confinement the deficiencies, in terms of services, of this and many other rural municipalities were evident. “During those months we realized that we did not even have access to the most basic, to buy any product you had to take the car and drive to the nearest town,” he recalls.
At the beginning of the health crisis, when it was impossible to leave the house, some mayors became distributors of butane bottles and food at home. This is the case of the first mayor of Cachorrilla, Rubén Morera, who took charge of the neighbors’ shopping list every week. For this reason, he values the business that Sonia Jorge is going to open and is convinced that people “are going to buy in the store even though the products may be a few cents more expensive”.
“Eyes of opportunity”
If the COVID-19 pandemic could have had something positive, it has been that there have been people who have returned to the rural world or who have simply now discovered it, and administrations are rushing to implement measures that enhance its appeal to achieve that the population gained take root.
For this reason, the Cáceres Provincial Council has approved this Friday to expand the initiative ‘The commissary revives’ to populations with less than 500 inhabitants and adds a good number of initiatives to stop the depopulation of its territory, such as providing ATMs to all localities that no longer have bank offices or subsidize housing rehabilitation in rural settings.
But now they are also working on more ambitious measures because “the people, as a result of the pandemic, are beginning to look at them with eyes of opportunity,” says Álvaro Sánchez Cotrina, deputy for Demographic Challenge in the provincial institution of Cáceres. In his opinion, sustainability, which has always been pampered in Extremadura and which has generated so much criticism for being considered an obstacle to the economic development of the community, “is now beginning to look positive.”
Sánchez Cotrina assures that in the last year “many people have come to our towns to telework” and, for this reason, work is being done on creating technological spaces for teleworking, a network of fab-labs and an office have been set up return of talent.
In addition, on June 30, the Cáceres Digital Destination initiative will be presented with an eye to software development companies, which foresees the creation of 2,000 jobs in Cáceres in the coming years. This proposal is the one that wants to take advantage of the new labor dynamics created by COVID-19 and promote the relocation of workers, services and technology-based companies.
Civil society proposals
But depopulation is not an urgent problem in Extremadura. Or at least that is what the Economic and Social Council says in its report on demographic challenge and balance, where it indicates that, although the situation is not good, “it is not the worst either, it is not catastrophic as it seems to lead us to believe.” However, it is stated that “it is difficult for us to keep a town inhabited where there is no tertiary sector or where it is not possible to access it in less than 30 minutes.”
These statements are also endorsed by Sánchez Cotrina: “It is true that the situation is not as dramatic as in other regions of Spain, but there is a risk of depopulation of some of our towns.”
Despite this, the issue has been on the political and social agenda for five years. The Cáceres Provincial Council promoted in 2016 the Declaration on the Depopulation of the Rural Area of Montánchez (Cáceres), signed by the Junta de Extremadura, other councils, associations, the Regional Federation of Municipalities and Provinces and local action groups, among others. Since then, there have been numerous proposals, measures and strategies by different administrations to curb the loss of population in rural areas.
Now civil society has also been involved. In Extremadura the open citizen movement HackExtrem has been launched with the intention, according to its organizers, to “hack Extremadura and Portugal, that is, to look at the great challenges facing our territories in a different way, take control of the future and build a new society “. A group of professionals from culture, technology, business and science seek solutions, within the framework of the new European Bauhaus, to the main challenges of the population after the pandemic.
The movement works on the prototyping of ideas from different perspectives to get their proposals to the institutions and develop joint lines of work. The common challenge of the working groups is depopulation. Among its many ideas, still not fully defined since contributions are received and matures until June 26, is the creation of a quality cultural seal that will homologate companies that wish to work in Extremadura and cultural events to promote this sector and, with this, “settle people in the territory, which is what it is all about,” explains one of the participants, Publio Galán, who is committed to innovation and creativity to achieve “a green, inclusive and digital future. “.