The European rural model
[ Index ]
Rural development, the European model
and the LEADER Initiative:
4 views from the outside
KODUKANT village movement
celebrates eight years of existence
by Mikk Sarv,
member of the KODUKANT governing board
The Estonian countryside greatly suffered during the first twenty
years (1940-1960) of Soviet occupation. In the 1960s, however, the
authorities in Moscow began to understand that the ability of
Estonian farmers to produce quality milk and meat was a great asset
for Soviet agriculture, which generally lacked efficiency and was
poorly organised. As a result, Estonian producers were paid much
higher prices, but intensive farming caused serious environmental
problems, notably groundwater pollution.
In Soviet Estonia, rural incomes were on average higher than urban
incomes. A number of agricultural enterprises had assigned
themselves a social mission, a little like a municipality, by
building swimming pools, sport facilities, cultural centres and day
care centres, for example. However, the initiatives of the local
communities were usually ignored by the authorities who had a clear
preference for the top-down approach.
The independence movement at the end of the 1980s, then independence
itself in 1991 after almost eight centuries of foreign
domination, were accompanied by a romantic vision of the
countryside where it was hoped the prosperous agricultural model of
the 1930s could be revived. The large collectivised farms were
divided into many small farms, but nobody saw the danger looming
ahead. The young government did away with farm subsidies and opened
the Estonian market wide up to agricultural and food imports,
without any temporary protective measures. This resulted in, among
other things, the disappearance of nearly two thirds of farming jobs
in less than ten years. Today, 7% of the working population in
Estonia is employed in agriculture.
Farmers and rural communities continue to face major challenges.
Legislation was passed in January 2000 to levy import duties on farm
products but only after a real political battle, and trade with the
European Union is regulated since July (before, food imported from
the EU greatly disrupted the local market, causing a steady decline
in the price of milk paid to dairy farmers which in 1999 was 0.08
Various development programmes have been implemented over the past
five to seven years. The following programmes are currently in
- Programme for agricultural areas undergoing restructuring;
- Programme for industrial areas undergoing restructuring;
- Programme for the islands;
- Cross-border cooperation and development programme;
- Programme for the networking of large towns (in order to
rebalance development between the capital, Tallin, and the other
towns in the country);
- Programme for the region of Setomaa (intended for the
municipalities of this historic area which has a culture of its own
and is isolated in south-east Estonia).
- Programme for local initiatives.
This last programme is the least funded (EUR 210 000 for 2000) but
also the one with the greatest bottom-up approach. Started in 1996
by KODUKANT under the name of the "Village Movement Programme", and
operating at the time with a budget of barely EUR 70 000 for the
whole of Estonia, it aims to stimulate initiatives from individuals
and non-profit-making associations in rural areas, eg, self-
employment for young people, rural tourism, studies on local history
and traditions, support for the establishment of local cooperatives
and the socio-cultural development of villages. The projects
concern, for example, the setting-up of telecentres, the creation of
ecotourism trails, the hiring and training of village development
After its first year of operation, the programme was considered by
the 15 counties, and by the municipalities that benefited from it,
to be one of the best regional policy instruments. The programme's
budget was increased each year. The number of projects has risen
from 531 in 1997 to probably 970 this year, and the total budget
allocated should ideally amount to at least EUR 1 million in order
to meet a steadily increasing demand. Whatever the case, the Local
Initiative Programme is to a great extent dependent on voluntary
work, and the sums granted for the projects serve as leverage to
obtain additional funding.
The "KODUKANT model"
What since 1996 is called the "Estonian Movement for Villages and
Small Villages (KODUKANT)" - In Estonian, KODUKANT means "home town"
or the place from where one comes - was launched in 1992 by local
communities during the great crisis that hit rural areas in this
country. It was first helped by the Movement of Swedish Villages
"Hela Sverige Ska Leva" (All of Sweden must Live) and the Swedish
International Development Aid Foundation.
The development model of what was first called the KODUKANT
"programme" consisted of three main elements: support for local
initiatives, support for community enterprises and rural SMEs and
networking and cooperation at all levels (from local to European).
These themes are the subject of a debate every two years at a "Rural
Parliament" attended by a number of associations but also by
representatives of the private sector (entrepreneurs, farmers, etc.)
and the public sector (local and regional authorities) from the 15
counties of Estonia. Three Rural Parliaments have been held since
1996, and the next one is scheduled for June 2001.
KODUKANT is involved in various programmes and activities:
- in Estonia: Programme for Local Initiatives, student awareness
of local development, promotion of quality food production, training
and creation of an ecotourism label, training for elected officials
and local development agents, environmental education in schools;
- at international level: PREPARE (Pre-accession Partnership for
Rural Europe) and INSPIRE (Information sharing with European rural
initiatives) programmes, participation in the creation of an
international network "Forum Synergies", cooperation with rural
networks in France (CIVAM), Spain (CERAI) and Great Britain (East
Anglia Food Link and Somerset Food Link).
KODUKANT and LEADER synergies
Thanks to the LEADER network, Estonians have been able to learn
about a certain number of successful experiments carried out by
rural communities across Europe and to engage in transnational
cooperation and share know-how. The philosophy of the LEADER
Initiative is very close to the principles of KODUKANT and we hope
to have the opportunity to work together in the future.
In return, Estonians can teach rural development workers how to
implement projects at little cost. We can also transfer our
experience of the Programme for Local Initiatives, even if it is
threatened to be abandoned next year owing to the public funding
reforms currently under way in Estonia. One way to get around the
reduction in funding would be to launch a transnational network with
the LEADER groups.
KODUKANT can also "teach" other countries how to organise Rural
Parliaments. Hungary and Slovakia have already taken up the offer by
drawing inspiration from the Swedish and Estonian Rural Parliaments.
 Estonia lost its independence in 1219,
was successively occupied by Denmark, Germany,
Poland, Sweden and Russia, then recovered it in
1918 before falling again under Soviet control in
1940. It finally regained independence in August 1991.
source: LEADER Magazine nr.25 - Winter 2000/2001