Estonia first lost it's independence in 1219 and has since been under Danish, German, Polish, Swedish and Russian rule. Independence was restored in 1918, lost again to the Soviet Union in 1940 and then finally regained in August 1991. The rural areas suffered during the first decades of Soviet occupation (1940-1960).
In the 1960s it was understood in Moscow that the capacity of Estonian farmers to produce milk and meat were great when compared with the badly organised agricultural production in other parts of USSR. The Estonian Agriculture sector thus became highly profitable but intensive production caused extensive environmental problems with pollution of ground waters, rivers and lakes.
The wages in the countryside were on average higher than in urban areas. Many of the agricultural enterprises took over several social responsibilities and acted like municipalities for example building swimming pools, sport halls, kindergartens, cultural houses etc. Local community initiatives were often overlooked at the time by the all- powerful, top-down management.
The new independence movement in the end of the eighties brought a romantic view about restitution in rural areas with a rebirth of the flourishing agriculture of the pre-occupation period in the 1930s. Many small farms began to replace large soviet agricultural enterprises, but nobody foresaw the abyss lurking ahead. A young, radical, right wing government cancelled all agricultural subsidies and opened up Estonian food and agriculture industries to the world market without placing any protecting measures like custom fees on imports.
The diagram of Dynamics of Producer Subsidy Equivalent provides an overview of what happened with Estonian agriculture and rural development between 1986 and 1998.
This resulted in the loss of almost two thirds of jobs in agriculture in less than 10 years. Nowadays agriculture provides about 7% of total employment in Estonia.
The situation has been and is still challenging for both farmers and village communities. Custom fees for imported agricultural products were introduced after a hard political fight in January 2000 and trade with the EU has been regulated since July 2000. (Earlier subsidised food imports from the EU had distorted the local market, eg the price that a producer could get for one litre of milk was down to 0,08 EUR in 1999).
The amount of subsidy has increased from year to year, but still remains far behind levels in the USA or the EU. Relatively few EU measures have been applied in Estonia: eg income support, investments and input support and infrastructure development support. The main market policy measures applicable in the EU, such as institutional prices, intervention buying in, export subsidies, base areas, etc., have not yet been implemented. In order for Estonia to access the EU it has to be able to cope with implementation of all measures used in the EU.
Several programs for rural development have been implemented during the last 5-7 years. For the year 2000 the following seven programs have been launched:
Promoting Local Initiative
The smallest of these programs but the most "bottom up", the Local Initiative Program (3,3 Million Crowns = 210 thousand EUR in year 2000) was originally proposed in 1996 by KODUKANT under the heading "Village Movement Program". It started with only 1,1 Million Estonian Crowns (70 thousand EUR) for all Estonia. The projects supported are for example: to start a telecottage, ecotourism itineraries, village reunion, village animators training etc
The funds were evenly distributed between all 15 Counties of Estonia. Upon it's inception any one project grant varied from 30-300 EUR. Each County formed a group consisting of 5 experts on local activism, who assessed the project proposals and made suggestions for funding. The funding was and is finally decided and signed by the County Governor. Every project proposal has to follow the priorities of the program for sustainable rural development. Each project has to get the recommendation from its local municipality (it forces local authorities to become more aware of the initiatives of local people). Information about co-financing is also demanded.
After the first year of operation the program has been considered both by municipal and regional authorities to be one of the best regional policy instruments. The program was increased on the second year to 2 Million Crowns, third year to 3 Million and fourth year to 4 Million Crowns (260 thousand EUR). The grant for a single project was raised to 600 EUR in 1998.
The total number of project proposals has increased in number from 531 in 1997 to 970 (proposed) in year 2000. About 70% of applications have been approved and funded each year, but the amount of funding compared to the sum applied has decreased steadily from 1997 to 2000 on the following scale: 50%-42%-37%-26%. The appropriate sum of funding should be 2-4 times higher, up to 1 million Euros, as more and more communities are starting their initiatives.
Commonly the Local Initiative Programme involves large amount of voluntary work and matching investments from local communities, the project funding is like a trigger to get the unused resources released.
The KODUKANT <in Estonian language 'home area'> movement was initiated by local communities during the deep depression of rural development in 1992. Assistance first came from the Swedish village movement "Hela Sverige Ska Leva" (The Whole Sweden Shall Live) and the Swedish International Development Aid Foundation. The funding rules for aid from Sweden demanded prior approval by the Estonian authorities, so a Kodukant programme co-ordination group from different ministries was called together.
The development model of the KODUKANT programme (later movement) has from the beginning been very simple. It has three parts:
These topics are brainstormed every 2 years, during "Rural Parliaments" where each of the 15 Counties is represented by 20 local animators, mainly from NGO-s, but also from private businesses, farms and local authorities. Three Rural Parliaments have been held since 1996.
The first Rural Parliament decided upon the formation of the National NGO "Estonian Movement of Villages and Small Towns" (KODUKANT) as an association of County village unions and other NGOs, working for rural development.
The second Rural Parliament proposed networking and communication with European rural initiatives. It was implemented by joining the European Network of Experiences in Sustainable Development (ENESD). This enabled KODUKANT to take part in Travelling Exhibition of ENESD in autumn 1998, and to share the experiences of Estonian villages with communities in Poland, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Germany, France and Portugal. During the the last week of October 1998 the exhibition was displayed together with the LEADER Initiative exhibition in the building of European Parliament in Brussels.
The third Rural Parliament in 1999 was used for group discussions on topics inspired by the ENESD political platform. The founding of a round table of Estonian political parties and NGOs was suggested by the Rural Parliament and implemented together with other NGOs in December 1999.
The fourth Rural Parliament is to be held on June 14-16, 2001 in Rapla County. The main topics will be:
Current Kodukant programmes and activities:
"Spark Youth to Kodukant" together with the Junior Achievement Foundation, 50 teachers will be trained to each help at least 5 young people in schools to start local development projects;
"Local healthy food and community health" local producers and small scale processors will be assisted in developing healthy local food products, marketing these locally, and presenting the results at the Fourth Rural Parliament
Estonian Rural Parliament:
LEADER and KODUKANT: learning from each other
Estonians can learn from the EU LEADER programme. They can learn from the success stories of remote local community initiatives throughout Europe, as well as the positive impact of international co-operation and sharing of experiences. The LEADER policy is very close to the ways in which KODUKANT works, so we hope to get more opportunities to co-operate with LEADER in future.
On the other hand, KODUKANT can "teach" the ways of setting up and organising Rural Parliaments. Already Hungary and Slovakia have drawn inspiration from Swedish and Estonian Rural Parliaments and have initiated their own ones.
Estonians also have much to teach about running rural development programmes and projects in the most inexpensive ways - funds have always been extremely limited ! And we can share our experiences of the Programme for Local Initiatives.
Following a SWOT analysis at the third Rural Day of Estonian Villages in July 1999 the tasks of Kodukant were spelled out. Although derived by Estonians to deal with a Society at the Crossroads their applicability might be seen as universal. They were to :