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[ Contents ]

Global tendencies, local responses

 

A thousand opportunities around a thousand lakes:
The RaJuPuSu LEADER group combines
environment and development

 

In the labyrinth of lakes and
forests that make up the RaJuPuSu
LEADER area in Finland, nature
remains the principal source of
economic opportunity.
LEADER is helping to establish
new commercial markets in farming,
forestry and tourism.

 

It is undoubtedly the LEADER area with the strangest name... It is also the most challenging for Finnish speakers: "Rajupusu" (pronounced "rayoopoosoo") in fact means "the passionate kiss"! "The area's inhabitants came up with this name in the 1960s", explains Ritva Partanen, coordinator of the local action group. "During a trip to Helsinki, they amused themselves by thinking up a name for their coach. By playing with words, they stumbled across 'RaJuPuSu', an acronym formed from the first two letters of the names of the municipalities from which they came: RAntasalmi, JUva, PUumala and SUlkava, 'RAJUPUSU'... This soon became a local joke and because these four municipalities (*) today form along with a fifth, Joroinen the current LEADER area, we decided to call ourselves by this name. It is provocative and very catchy. Everyone in Finland has heard of us by now!"

Although a lot less innovative and likely to be applied to other areas of Eastern Finland, "Finland's Lakeland" could also have done the job: the Saimaa, a huge lake system (4 400 km2) in South-East Finland, occupies 40% of the surface area of the Passionate Kiss region. Half of the 26 000 inhabitants are scattered on isolated farms or in hamlets along the 8 700 km or so of coastline formed by the entanglement of lakes and islands. The other half are concentrated in the five county towns. With 7 inhabitants per km2, RaJuPuSu is typical of a Nordic Objective 6 area.

"The entire area forms a homogeneous whole, including its problem areas", claims Saara Pesonen, local coordinator of the Objective 6 programme. "We have a problem within the area: the scattered habitat is disappearing to the benefit of market towns for reasons of comfort and because of the services on offer... Entire areas of RaJuPuSu are becoming empty, which poses a real challenge in terms of development... On the other hand, the use of information technologies is very widespread and we can count on all kinds of associations which maintain a strong local dynamic."

In three months, from August to December 1995, development agents from the five municipalities of RaJuPuSu managed to mobilise no less than 150 people representatives from public organisations and associations, businessmen, citizens, etc. to draw up the rural innovation programme. Between 1 300 and 1 400 people attended the 50 information meetings organised by the local action group to present LEADER. These meetings generated 130 proposals for projects, 81 of which have been approved. "61 projects began in 1997 and 20 are starting up in 1998," clarifies Ritva Partanen, "but the procedure is not closed: we are launching seven calls for projects a year."

This major regional brainstorming encouraged by LEADER has led the 136 members of the RaJuPuSu group to identify the environment as a source and main theme of local development: the protection and valorisation of the area's natural assets should enable new activities to be created by boosting existing sectors through making new commercial markets viable. In order to implement this strategy, the LEADER group can count on excellent levers, particularly methodological ones, at local level.

 

Environmental education


Pekka Hynninen is leader of a LEADER project. For 20 years, this former teacher has been defending the cause of "environmental education": "respecting the environment is a matter of survival for Finland," he confirms, "but people must be made aware of this, their system of values must change... Environmental education affects every aspect of an individual's life, his productivity, his leisure, his consumption. It in fact revives the concept of citizenship."

In 1993, along with the Finnish Foundation for Environmental Education and the Province of Mikkeli, Pekka launched the "Eco-school" project: 120 schools of all levels, several hundred teachers and several thousand pupils participated in this three-year experiment intended to develop educational programmes and tools geared towards environmental education. In 1994, the action was rewarded with the very prestigious Finlandia Prize. In the same year, Pekka Hynninen and his team founded the "Rantasalmi Institute for Environmental Education (RIEE)", which they set up in the lakeland centre of the Linnansaari National Park in the heart of RaJuPuSu.

Within a few years, the RIEE had built up a solid reputation for itself at national and international levels. For example, with financial support from the European Social Fund and technical assistance from the University of Savonlinna, the Institute has, since 1996, been implementing a national training programme for no less than 3 000 teachers per year. On the European scene, the Institute coordinates inter alia the activities of the BEENET (Baltic Environmental Education Network) pilot programme, supported by Directorate-General XI of the European Commission.

Each year, the RIEE also organises 60 "green classes" focusing on ecology. This evident link with the RaJuPuSu group's strategy led to the implementation in May 1998 of a LEADER action entitled "Outdoor education and educational tourism", aimed at schoolchildren and currently involving six local tourist operators. "The aim is to create a local network of tourism professionals capable of giving the classes a quality welcome, even if this type of tourism does not generate very big margins; the advantage for the operators concerned is that they will be able to considerably extend their period of activity, since the aim is to organise school trips right through the year and not only in the Spring or Autumn as has been the case up to now..." explains Pekka.

 

"Farm evenings"


With the presence of the RIEE, the RaJuPuSu rural development strategy therefore has strong methodological support. But the diversification of activities based on the environment benefits from another asset: the local importance of organic farming, a sector in which the region has long been a pioneer in Finland.

Juva is one of Martti Talvela's favourite areas: in the 1970s, the great opera singer purchased a farm that he converted to organic farming. Media coverage of this story had a snowball effect: in 1985, the Students' Union from the University of Helsinki, along with local partners (Chamber of Agriculture, associations, etc.), founded a "Rural Development Association" in the village of Partala mainly dedicated to organic farming. Several farmers were able to be convinced and in 1990, the movement led to the creation of a "Research Station for Ecological Agriculture", the only one of its kind in Finland.

"We prefer to use the term 'ecological', which is broader than the term 'organic', "clarifies Petri Leinonen, a researcher at the station and member of the LAG's Board of Directors. "The ecological approach takes into account both the product and the context; in this way, every time we carry out an 'agricultural' study, we obtain lots of information of a sociological and economic nature, which is very useful for local development as a whole..."

Ecological production in the area occupies 10% of cultivated land, compared with an average of 5% in Finland as a whole, and LEADER is closely linked to the sector: among others, the LAG very often organises "farm evenings" covering specific themes (compost, weed killers, etc.) at a particular farm. "These meetings, which are both technical and user-friendly, provide an opportunity for very productive exchanges which bring about a permanent mobilisation of the farmers around local development", comments Ritva Partanen.

Produce from "gentle" farming has the wind in its sails: launched in 1993 by producers wanting better pay for their milk, the Juvan Luomu ecological dairy, a partner of the LAG, now represents 50% of the Finnish market for bio yoghurt. "We have no problems finding outlets," notes its Director, Nils Grotenfelt, "what we need are new suppliers to satisfy demand. The Objective 6 programme therefore enables us to fund one full-time job so that we can take on 30 additional dairy producers. It's just that we keep coming up against geographical (distances) and especially cultural barriers: before, the farmers and foresters didn't need to take anyone on; their production flowed naturally in the form of raw materials, the loss of earnings was made up by State subsidies... Today they have to actively launch themselves in a sector strategy, a commercial approach, find new niches..."

This is one challenge that Erja and Jouni Liukkonen have been able to overcome. Isolated at the end of a forest road, their farm has, in a few years, become a successful rural company, employing 6 people: "My grandfather cleared the land; my father developed the operation under the terms of the national farming regulations; for us, the third generation, it's Europe, quality farm products, a way to get through but also to prosper", says Erja.

First of all, the couple heavily invested in setting up an abattoir in 1994 which conditions pig, sheep and beef meat from around 15 neighbouring farmers. The Liukkonen's then began manufacturing several varieties of very tasty sausages, marketed in short channels: direct sale, a local catering market and sales outlets for craft products set up under LEADER. "The next stage is to improve distribution logistics", explains Jouni. "We could easily expand our market geographically if we had refrigerated transportation. A distribution company would be welcome here..."

 

People-resources


Like Nils Grotenfelt and the Liukkonen's, there are many other RaJuPuSu producers which blame a similar situation for hampering their expansion: in an area where 17% of the working population is unemployed, businessmen are unable to find a suitable workforce. "The older generation is relatively untrained and young people tend to go for service jobs, which have only been available here since recently," deplores Petri Silvonen, head of exports at Rantasalmi Oy. This company, which makes high-quality log houses exported in the form of kits to around 30 countries, has not been able to find enough local joiners and carpenters to satisfy its needs. "We produce wood for the whole of Europe, but less than 5% is processed on site; we can't find people who know how to work it..." In order to try to resolve the problem, the company has started to provide young independent craftsmen with workshops, in the hope that partnerships are formed between them and Rantasalmi Oy.

"This company evidently does not need LEADER or other grants to prosper," explains Ritva Partanen; "on the other hand, it is a resource and a reference for our action in favour of small sawmills that we are looking to convert to second timber processing. Here we are touching on another essential aspect of our strategy: being able, within the LAG and for each sector, to count on entrepreneurs such as the Liukkonen's, Nils Grotenfelt, Petri Silvonen, etc. who are not project leaders but represent people-resources, 'models' for project leaders. Timo Hagman is another good example..."

Timo Hagman is also a member of the LEADER group. A woodcutter from Carlie (Central-East Finland), his father came across an article one day in the press on breeding fish in semi-wild conditions in Canada. It was a revelation: during the summer of 1974, he travelled across Finland on a motorbike in search of the ideal location to launch this activity. He discovered Puumala, one of the municipalities of RaJuPuSu: the bay of a lake (see photo) creates a permanent current which always keeps the water cold, a pre-requisite for breeding salmon in semi-wild conditions. Today, the company, which employs the father, his two sons and two additional employees, "harvests" 100 tonnes of fish per year, generating a turnover of around ECU 300 000. The Hagman's are gradually converting to ecological fish breeding "to increase the value added", but what is particularly interesting to note is that Timo coordinates the training action that the LEADER group has implemented for around 20 fishermen and young unemployed people in order to create a real quality fish breeding sector.

 

"In the same boat"


This is perhaps the best slogan to illustrate the process in the RaJuPuSu LEADER area. "Everyone in the same boat" describes a project implemented in Sulkava (3 500 inhabitants): benefiting from a LEADER grant of ECU 20 000, around 20 operators (hoteliers, restaurant owners, bus operators, etc.) in this municipality-archipelago have come together to market all-inclusive short-term tourist stays. And what is their "promotional niche"? The most impressive rowing race in the world, which has been organised each summer since 1968, initially to save the last traditional wooden "church boats". More for pleasure than for competition, the race involves circling the island of Partanlansaari in a rowing-boat (60 km!). In 1997, 8 100 people took part in the event, during which Sulkava received up to 20 000 visitors. 600 volunteers were mobilised. Spin-offs were estimated at ECU 250 000 and in particular, four craftsmen from the village have for several years been earning their living building small boats. "'Everyone in the same boat' is the name that we have chosen for our group because of the race, of course, but also and especially because everyone who lives here is aware that they need to 'row' together in order to guarantee themselves a clear future," outlines Arja Schenkwein, a hotel owner who has firmly decided to remain on her native island. In RaJuPuSu, names are never neutral...


(*) Finland has 455 "Municipalities".
In rural areas, the smallest Finnish
administrative unit is still very large. Since
the 1970s, many municipalities have begun using
business development officers, who play an
important role in terms of accompanying
LEADER projects.


 

 

LEADER RAJUPUSU

 

Surface area: 3 700 km
Population: 26 654 inhabitants
LEADER II financing: ECU 2 870 000
EU: ECU 1 067 000
Other public funds: ECU 1 067 000
Private: ECU 736 000

 

RaJuPuSu LEADER Association
Juvantie 2
FIN-51900 Juva
Phone: +358 15 755 1610 - Fax: +358 15 755 1620
E-mail: ritva.partanen@rajupusu.inet.fi
Web: http://www.rajupusu.fi/europa/leader

source: LEADER Magazine n18 - Fall, 1998


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