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Estonian Movement of Villages and Small Towns

by Mikk Sarv mikk@raplamv.ee

An earlier version of this paper appeared in LEADER Magasine (25)

bulletA brief history of agriculture and the rural areas
bulletFree market problems
bulletProgrammes for Rural Development
bulletPromoting Local Initiative
bulletThe "KODUKANT development model"
bulletCurrent Kodukant programmes and activities:
bulletLEADER and KODUKANT: learning from each other

A brief history of agriculture and the rural areas

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.

graph01.jpg (13385 bytes) Producer subsidy equivalent (PSE) — A measure of the value of monetary transfers to agricultural producers resulting from agricultural policies in a given year. It includes both transfers from consumers of agricultural products (through domestic market price supports) and transfers from taxpayers (through budgetary or tax expenditures). http://agriculture.house.gov/secgloss/p.htm

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.

Free market problems

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.

Programmes for Rural Development

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:

bulletProgramme for the Areas of Agricultural Restructuring;
bulletProgramme for the Areas of Industrial Restructuring;
bulletProgramme for the Islands;
bulletProgramme for the Network of Centres, aiming to recover the disbalance in the development of the capital city on the cost of other towns;
bulletProgramme for Local Initiatives. This targets the development of initiative in individuals and non-profit organisations in rural areas. The programme is mainly directed to the development of self-realisation opportunities for the rural youth, rural tourism, study of local history and traditions, promotion of local co-operative movements and promotion of the general social and cultural development of villages;
bulletProgramme for the Setomaa Region This targets the municipalities of historical Setomaa territory in the remote South East of Estonia. The programme is primarily directed to the diversification of the economic structure with alternative fields of activities, development of various preconditions for business activities, promotion of the SME sector, improvement of the qualification level of the labour force and the quality of living environment in the area, as well as maintaining unique cultural peculiarities;
bulletProgramme for Cross Border Cooperation and development activities of the counties. This targets the promotion of cross-border co-operation between county administrations, municipalities and non-governmental organisations. The programme is mainly directed to the development of infrastructure, improvement of environmental protection, promotion of tourism, institutional co-operation, information exchange and contacts, development of co-operation in the field of (info)technology, promotion of business contacts and regional marketing, as well as promotion of co-operation in the field of development strategies and plans.

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 development model"

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:

bulletsupport to the initiatives of local communities;
bulletsupport to the community enterprises and SMEs in rural areas;
bulletsupport for networking and co-operation at all levels (from local neighbourhood to EU).

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:

bulletLocal communities in healthy food production, processing and marketing;
bulletLocal resources in local businesses;
bulletSustainability of the animators (avoidance of burnout);
bulletEnvironmental training by and with local communities.

Current Kodukant programmes and activities:

In Estonia:

"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:

bulletTraining programme for quality ecotourism "Estonia – the Natural Way" together with Estonian Ecotourism Association (see http://www.ecotourism.ee/eng.html ;
bulletTraining programme for local animators and village heads;
bulletEnvironmental education programme for villages, local schools and kindergartens;


bulletProgramme PREPARE – Pre-accession Partnership for Rural Europe;
bulletProgramme INSPIRE – Information sharing with European rural initiatives;
bulletParticipation in building up the transnational network "Forum Synergies" (see http://wwww.forum-synergies.org);
bulletCo-operation with French CIVAM, Spanish CERAI and English East Anglia Food Link and Somerset Food Link project (look http://www.kodukant.ee/4europe ).

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 :

bulletspread information
bulletfind resources for fulfilling objectives
bulletcommunicate with the public, state and local governments
bulletdevelop and coordinate partnership networks
bulletorganise joint actions
bulletorganise international relations
bulletaward the active people
bulletpermanently follow the general strategy


mikk.jpg (4125 bytes)

Mikk Sarv
First Chairman of the Board of Kodukant
Now Head of Foreign Relations
fax +3724855672
Tallinna 14 79513 Rapla, Estonia



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