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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[1], 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 EUR/l).


Local initiatives

Various development programmes have been implemented over the past five to seven years. The following programmes are currently in progress:

  • 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 agents, etc.

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.


        Trained as a biologist and forester, Mikk Sarv has worked in the field of environmental conservation and the preservation of heritage before being hired as advisor to the Rapla county authorities.

        Mikk Sarv,
        Tallinna 14 79513 Rapla (Estonia).


[1] 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

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