3.1. Accessibility Analysis
It is a well-known fact that well-established infrastructure contributes to a better quality of life, and reduces depopulation process of the rural areas. A good road infrastructure is a key prerequisite for the development. It enables better communication with markets and enables product placement, increases competition, and provides opportunities for additional income. Some rural areas of the studied region are with poorly developed transport, and with little or no social or economic infrastructure. The distance to the food shops and elementary schools is, on average, 3 to 4 km, and to the high schools and bank it is 10 km or more. In addition, the physical condition of the water supply network is poor; not all villages on the remote area have an electricity supply and the telecommunication network is undeveloped and more often does not offer the possibility of the Internet. In order to identify a region as remote we performed an accessibility analysis using the driving time needed for the population of a region to reach a city center.
We categorized a region to be remote when the population needs to drive 30 min or more to reach a city center. The main input of the accessibility analysis is a road network map (Figure 8
The road network is used to compute the driving time needed to reach the urban center. In the case of Niksic, the road network included all the types of roads classified. To simplify the composition of the network, and to deal with the absence of some interconnections, three main types of roads were chosen: paved roads, non-paved roads and paths. The road network used for the analysis comes from the Google Maps Database.
The studied region of the municipality of Niksic, F, is 2065 km2. The density of the road network, G, for the total area of the Niksic Municipality is 0.10. The value of the G coefficient of 0.10 indicates that there is a low density of the road network of the Niksic Municipality. Calculating the inputs for the service areas with 30-min time frames we concluded that the surface of this subsection is 718 km2, with the total length of the road network being 123 km.
The service areas with 30-min time frames represent 35%; the areas more than 30-min time frames are 65% of the total area of the studied Municipality of Niksic. The density of the road network of the service areas with 30-min time frames, G, is 0.17, which indicates that there is also a low density of the road network for this subsection.
The causes of migration from or to rural areas should not only be looked at in the change in economic structure and implementation of technological novelties, but also in social structure and the improvement of public services; that is, the transition of youth from urban populations to rural populations with the gradual optimisation of the transportation and internet network. Therefore, there is synergy among the changes in economic structure, rural population, the rural–urban transformation ratio, and road density in controlling the structural characteristics of depopulation of rural areas. [42
3.2. Results of the Interviews
While comparing all 22 interview transcripts and one additional qualitative research with the focus group of young people, but also using all the notes from the field visits, numerous aspects were discovered. About 70% of the interviewed farmers indicated that work on the farms is their secondary job, mainly being carried out on the weekends, while about 30% stated that it was their main employment. All the farmers cultivated vegetables and fruits, and some of them also kept bees for personal use. Overall, the number of livestock has strongly decreased in all the farms (for almost everyone) in the last five decades; nowadays, most farmers have zero to three cows, some have about 15–30 sheep and no one owns an ox, horse, or donkey.
Findings based on the rural household survey data and key informant interviews confirm the research hypothesis that the strengths of the studied region are high quality, well-preserved and fertile soil, and that there are good conditions for organic production. The farmers stated that the area has favourable climate for many types of agricultural production. Farmers have tradition in agricultural production practices and a sufficient work force would provide additional opportunities for employment. We recorded positive changes in production processes, e.g., adoption of new technologies and introduction of new international standards.
During the interviews, farmers stated that a large part of the agricultural products are from seasonal production and are non-competitive in price. This production is characterised by relatively high input prices that influence the final price of the products, with low levels of market sales. We noticed a lack of organization and cooperation in the production chain. Holdings are small and fragmented, with low levels of production per household unit. The farmers are with poor mechanization, but also with low levels of technology and specialization applied in production. Poor infrastructure (road network, water supply, and internet) characterised major parts of the rural areas of the studied region and there is a lack of storage capacity. We recorded an unfavourable age and social structure in the rural areas, with low levels of education and a lack of knowledge in farmers. In relation to the gender analysis, we concluded that male migration is an important factor that determines a women’s role on farms. A significant weakness is poor connections of the farmers with the tourism sector.
From the communication with the interviewed farmers, and through further analysis, we concluded that there is an opportunity for increasing of the markets of organic production, with possible initiation of exports of competitive products (goat milk and cheese, lamb, and vegetables) as there is in general growing demand for high-quality products. Since local non-agricultural employment does not result in the prolonged absence of key household labours, we should achieve a better combination of resource-based and non-resource-based activities in rural household livelihood portfolios. Therefore, creating more non-agricultural employment opportunities within commuting distance from rural communities without causing environmental degradation can enhance the sustainability of agricultural production and natural resource use. Farmers are facing periodic risks due to fluctuations in economic conditions, but the responses to these risks are poorly understood. In particular, there is a need to better understand the management of risk in the farming systems [43
]. Proposed non-agricultural employment opportunities could be a measure of diversification given the risks of traditional farming.
There is a space for strengthening agriculture activities through tourism and additional food demand. In this specific moment Montenegro is in the process of accession to the European Union, with the availability of state and EU support, particularly for rural development. That may increase technological development, as well as strengthening of the professional skills and institutions supporting agricultural development, which may end up involving the young work force in agricultural activity.
On the other hand, opening of the market will increase competitiveness, which may endanger major parts of commercial production that we have in the studied region only in traces. Another risk is the fact that while rural-to-urban labour migration and abandonment of farmland may facilitate forest transition and ecological recovery, abandoned lands may fail to rehabilitate naturally because they have been irreversibly transformed [34
]. It is worth mentioning that few of the interviewed farmers mentioned land consolidation as an effective technique in land management [46
]. This initiative should be supported from the state level as that contributes to sustainable rural development. Policies encouraging ecosystem recovery on abandoned land can promote sustainable land use and reduce water, landslides, and soil erosion [47
]. Meanwhile, it is of great importance to develop holistic policies and programs to enhance both rural people’s socioeconomic welfare and rural environmental sustainability. Development interventions need to work with farmers to provide further options.
Agricultural productivity, the high urbanisation rate, the weakening status of the agricultural industry, and the low population in rural areas show that agricultural production is no longer the main way for farmers to earn a living. The “part-time farming” and “non-agricultural” production of farmers’ livelihoods lead to their reduced dependence on agricultural production. Farmers are more inclined to “edge and corner land” and agricultural production-related land used for agricultural production within and around places where they live [45
Working with the youth focus group we repeatedly came to a similar position as presented in communication with the farmers. A summary of the interviews with the youth living in the rural areas of Niksic is presented in the paper. Here we would like to highlight that young people are aware about the picturesque villages of their area and pointed out that the food they are producing is of exceptional quality and that the region is rich with medicinal herbs (teas, various medicinal herbs, forest fruits, blueberries, mushrooms, rosehip, and the like).
In their opinion the potential is in agro-eco tourism and health tourism development, but also in engaging in organic production. All young people unanimously highlighted the importance of the state investments in transport infrastructure (complained about gravel roads and poor-quality infrastructure), but also in water supply and telecommunications.
They are of the opinion that more young people are returning to the countryside now than before. They complain that there is a lack of playgrounds and sports field, but also about the problem of their mobility and poor internet coverage. All interviewed young people pointed out that the villages are empty as far as they are concerned. They highlighted the special threat of the loss of a young generation from the rural areas, after the disappearance of their fathers’ generation. Few young respondents stated that climate changes may be a problem for this area in the future. We concluded together that young people have more difficulties to get married and to form a family in these rural areas. It is difficult for them to make a career since it often requires presence in large urban centres.
From the beginning of this century, a few farmers from the studied area have been providing good examples of the business initiatives in the rural areas of this part of the Balkans. Radivoje Miljanic from Podbozur, Javorka and Sreten Batricevic from Trubjela, as well as Boris Cipranic from Niksicka Zupa, all from Niksic Municipality, have initiated small family businesses with goat farming (see Figure 9
, Figure 10
, Figure 11
, Figure 12
, Figure 13
and Figure 14
Demographic trends. From 1948–1953, all the zones, the town, and the municipality experienced positive population growth, particularly in rural settlements. The largest growth index was recorded in the town of Niksic, indicating that rural-to-urban migration was significant during this period. However, this was offset by high rates of rural population growth. Of the zones in this period, the Greater Suburban zone had the lowest population growth index (Table 1
). From 1953–1971, rural-to-urban migration increased due to the accelerated process of industrialisation; this is reflected in the movement of the town’s population (the indices were high). There was a population decrease first in the Mountainous and Greater Suburban zones and later in the Suburban zone. The 1970s saw a stabilised decrease in birth rates (which were high after WWII to compensate for war losses). This first affected the urban area and the settlements closer to it and later other areas.
The significant migration of young and middle-aged people from rural areas, particularly from the Mountainous zone, and the quickly declining birth rate resulted in a drastic reduction of the rural population. In 2011, there were only 6241 inhabitants in the Mountainous zone, which is 13,099 inhabitants or 2.1 times less than in 1953. The Greater Suburban zone lost 3418 inhabitants in the same period (1.1 times less than in 1953). It should be emphasised that these are only the immediate population losses; the indirect losses from these two zones are much higher (if one counts the population growth rate of the generations that moved out of these zones). The Suburban zone had a different population trend. From 1961–1971 and from 1981–1991 it had a declining population, but in the period 1991–2011 it had the highest population growth rate at the municipal level. During periods of declining population, migration to the town intensified. In the post-1991 period, which was characterised by a very difficult economic situation in the town and the entire municipality because most industrial enterprises had closed or drastically reduced the number of workers, the population that had migrated to town returned to the Suburban zone, which has the best conditions for agricultural production in the municipality. Number of inhabitants of the town and zones for the the period from 1948 to 2011 presented in the Figure 15
and the Table 2
Population movement affects population density, which increased in the municipality in the period 1948–2003 but decreased in the last inter-census period in the town as well. After the initial increase in population density, the Suburban zone basically retained the same density (with small fluctuations) of 39 people per km², which is the highest at the zone level. Since the 1960s, the Greater Suburban zone has been experiencing a constant decline in population density and is still halved today (Table 2
and Table 3
). In terms of surface area and number of settlements, the Mountain zone has always been characterised by low population density. Population density today is only four people per km².
The processes of industrialisation and urbanisation when there were poor traffic connections between the countryside and the town led to pronounced deagrarianisation and then to deruralisation. Bad roads and the poor quality of housing and communal facilities in the countryside also contributed to this. The old housing stock in the countryside was inadequate and had not been modernised. Investment was directed towards industry, and there was no investment in agriculture and rural municipalities. Deagrarianisation took place faster than the various industries could disperse some of their technologies into final production in the municipality, and the technological development of agriculture was even slower due to the karst characteristics of the terrain. Therefore, it was not possible to stop the outflow of young people from the countryside to the town, resulting in the depopulation of many villages in the municipality. Population density of the Niksic municipality (2011) and population indices relative to 1948 are presented on the Figure 16
; and presentation of percentage of zones in the municipality’s population in the period 1948–2011 on Figure 17
In fact, with only a small elderly population remaining, some villages faced demographic extinction. In the period 1961–1981, the agricultural population decreased from 18,686 to 4338. This negative trend continued, and according to the 2003 census there were only 963 people registered as being actively engaged in agriculture.
The intensity of the rural exodus is best illustrated by the fact that in the period 1953–1981, the town of Niksic grew in population at such a rate that it was used as an example in demographic studies of Yugoslavia [31
The intensity of deagrarianisation and depopulation best illustrates the share of the rural population in the municipality’s population at the beginning and end of the observed period. In 1948, 75.4% of the municipality’s population was rural, and in 2011 the figure was only 21.3%. The highest depopulation was recorded in the Mountainous zone, which at the beginning of the observed period had 41.5% of the municipality’s population compared to only 8.6% in 2011 (Figure 17
Changes in the age structure of the zones’ populations reflect the intensity of migration from the villages of the municipality. At the beginning of the observed period in 1961, all zones had a high proportion of young people (43.4%–45%), indicating high birth rates and positive population growth rates in rural settlements. The elderly population rate was significantly higher in all zones than in the town, indicating intense migration from the villages to the town (Table 4
). The age indices ranged from 0.27 to 0.32 in the zones and were significantly higher in relation to the urban population (0.14). During this period, all zones were at the stage of demographic maturity; the Mountainous zone had the oldest population, which was about to enter demographic old age.
Due to the constant migration, the constant decline in birth rates and ultimately the negative population growth, 50 years later there was a significant change in the age structure of the population in the zones. The Suburban zone, which has the most favourable age structure, is in the demographic old age stage and is about to transition into deep demographic old age; it has the highest proportion of young people (27.4%) at the municipal level, 19% of the elderly population, and an age index of 0.69. The Greater Suburban zone is at the stage of deepest demographic old age, with an age index of 1.01, an elderly population of 24.8%, and a young population of 24.7%. The Mountainous zone, which has the worst age structure, has a young population of 21.1%, an elderly population of 28.8%, and an age index of 1.37. This zone has not only been in the stage of deepest demographic old age for a long time but is also threatened by demographic extinction in the coming period. The problem is more distinct if we consider the fact that this zone includes 76 of the municipality’s 109 rural settlements and comprises 1554.8 km² of the total area of rural settlements of 2001.6 km²). Therefore, unless urgent and extensive demographic and repopulation measures are implemented, a large part of the Municipality of Niksic will become uninhabited in the near future. Such measures would primarily be redistributive in nature, as there is almost no potential for population reproduction in the Mountainous zone.
The ageing process as a result of the declining birth rates peaked in the town in the 1970s. However, due to the large influx of younger middle-aged people from the surrounding areas in the productive 1970s and 1980s, it was not until the 1990s that this significantly affected the age structure of the town’s population. This is the main reason that the town’s population has the most favourable age structure in the municipality. In rural areas, birth rates have been falling for two reasons—the trend of declining birth rates and the displacement of so many people of a reproductive age. The accelerated ageing of the population in the zones has mainly been due to the rural exodus, as mostly elderly households remained in the villages.