Institute of

Rural Studies


Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

 (c) Fenster-Bild: Rainer; Laden-Bild: Thünen-Institut/Winfried Eberhardt; Moor-Bild: Thünen-Institut/Norbert Röder

Research and policy advice: perspectives on rural areas

We do scientific groundwork for the sustainable development of rural areas.

In this context we assume that many rural regions in Germany will face more demographic, economic and ecological challenges in the future.

In order to provide science-based decision-making support for policymakers, we focus on the following main questions:

  • How do the objective and subjective living conditions change in different rural areas, for instance, as a consequence of population aging and shrinking?
  • Which factors lead to some rural areas developing successfully economically and others not?
  • How do agriculture and land use changes impact on the state of natural resources in rural areas?
  • How do policymakers intervene in all these developments? What other options for action are there and how effective and efficient are they?

We look at rural areas from a territorial perspective in the context of the overall situation. The important role played by agriculture, forestry and the food industry in rural areas is also taken into account. The choice of a territorial perspective makes sense because rural areas are residential areas and living environment for many people in Germany. They fulfil diverse social functions which go far beyond agricultural and forestry production. They are the location of many small and medium enterprises, a place for leisure and recreation and sites of ecological compensation for agglomerations.

Our research mainly focuses on Germany and the EU. In this way we can take a differentiated look at regional diversity in Germany. At the same time, we learn from the experiences in other rural areas within the EU.

We make use of a broad spectrum of methods and theories from economics and the social sciences. We work on an interdisciplinary basis and co-operate with numerous agricultural, spatial, regional and natural science research institutions in Germany and Europe. An interdisciplinary approach is essential if the multi-layered research subject "rural areas" is to be treated in an adequate manner. Our numerous contacts with stakeholders in rural development coupled with scientific independence facilitate access to expert knowledge and experience. This contributes to scientific progress and to recipient-oriented policy advice.

Our research is mainly empirical. We use data from official statistics and secondary data from other sources. Furthermore, we also carry out many quantitative and qualitative data collections of our own.



Fields of Activity

Voluntary fire brigades used to be a key factor of functioning service provision in rural areas over decades. But civic engagement is changing and cannot be considered as a matter of course any longer. (©  Thünen-Institut/Annett Steinführer)
Living conditions
Living in rural areas in Germany differs from city life, even though the same regional conditions prevail in every region. Fact or fiction?
Factory in the coutryside (©  Dieter Schü
Economy and jobs
Some rural regions flourish while others are threatened with regression. In analysing these differences for different regions and also in comparison to non-rural regions we identify driving forces for observed development paths.
Cereals - Rape - Forest (©  aid infodienst, Bonn)
Use of resources, environment and nature protection
We analyse the economic aspects of the agricultural use of natural resources as well as the interrelationships with the environment, nature and society and develop options for a sustainable use of resources
Social security: solidarity between generations (©  lunaundmo -
Social policy in agriculture
We analyse the impacts of social security systems in agriculture and evaluate and develop proposals for reform.
Flood protection as part of the programme for the development of rural areas (©  Thünen-Institut/Winfried Eberhardt)
Policy for Rural Areas
We analyse the impacts of policy measures for rural development but also other spatial policy measures and provide impulses for their further development
Arable land with field margins (©  Thünen-Institut/Peter Weingarten)
Further development of the EU-agricultural policy
Agricultural policy in Germany is mainly determined by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the EU. By analyzing the impacts of current and alternative designs of the EU-agricultural policy, and hence giving policy advice, we provide a scientific basis for an efficient and targeted design of agricultural policy measures (including measures for rural development).
RAUMIS (©  Thünen-Institut)
Model-based policy impact assessment
We support policy decision makers with model-based analyses and recommendations such that they can competently decide on questions relevant for agriculture