“This crisis has proved to us the importance of having short supply chains, especially in the food sector. Whatever happens in the world, people will always need food, even more when international supply chains are interrupted. Countries should be prepared to provide their citizens with local food products.”
Silja Lehtpuu, project manager at the Union of Setomaa (Estonia)
With the growing popularity of local and organic or ecological products, the demand for fresh and natural products has also increased in Estonia and Russia. Many people who live in the countryside in South Estonia and Pskov (Russia) cross-border regions rely on farming, but they face three major difficulties: the lack of knowhow to preserve their crops, to make the packaging and to sell their products. And, more importantly, the lack of resources to do so. Small producers and gardeners in the horticultural sector have limited capacities to process and store the farm produce they grow; at the same time, they cannot implement their own production line because the volume is too small. This prevents them from increasing their income and producing higher-value products, which in turn affects the socio-economic development of the rural border regions.
The Active Village project, co-funded by the Estonia-Russia CBC Programme, is turning this “real-life need” into a business opportunity. The initiative has put together small farmers and product development centres, equipped with some of the best technologies to process and increase the value of primary farming products. This is the solution to the lack of infrastructure, opportunities, and expertise. “This project provides us with the best conditions to find solutions to our problems in a very short period of time – explains Anna Voichenko head of the NGO “Centre for Efficient Farming and Gardening” – Local financing is possible; however, the process is lengthy and time-consuming. The CBC programme has provided us with funds from the very beginning and, more importantly, with the opportunity for cross-border cooperation, which is very valuable”.
Indeed, thanks to this cooperation, two new centers have been established, offering local farmers and entrepreneurs the opportunity to freeze, dry, process or conserve their products. In Obinitsa (Estonia), a former pigsty was turned into a freezing centre for berries and other forests products. The refrigeration centre allows small horticultural entrepreneurs to quickly cool and freeze their crops so that these do not lose quality and can be quickly converted into marketable products. The Räpina School of Horticulture – project partner from Estonia – also acquired a modern irrigation system that keeps the PH level of the water in balance to grow better-quality crops. On the other side of the border, in Pskov, the project partners built a modern centre for drying and packaging agricultural products. Small farmers, producers and entrepreneurs are now able to store, wash, cut, dry, package and deliver finished products, benefitting from shorter supply chains to the end-consumer, therefore increased quality. This means higher profit and better life quality. “We offer real, wholesome and healthy products. We get supplied directly from the farmers of the Pskov region”, confirms Anna Voichenko.
Project partners have put in place training programmes both for the experienced and young entrepreneurs working in specific horticulture fields. They opted for a sectoral approach and selected rural SMEs and farmers from a concrete crop field so that the training would really meet their specific needs and expectations. On the Estonian side, eight modules were implemented: the entrepreneurs were given practical solutions to develop a business plan, as well as mentoring and counselling for the promotion of ecological products.
Finally, Active Village products – like dried mushrooms, tea leaves, jams, vegetables, herbs, or berries – were presented in multiple fairs and fora, such as the Peterfood in St. Petersburg, the international ethno-gastronomical forum “Taste without borders” in Pskov or Prodexpo (Moscow), among others. These events were the perfect opportunity for a wider public to taste Estonian and Russian organic products and appreciate their quality. Some of these products are now marketed under regional or collective brands launched within the project.
Furthermore, the resources created through this project will be maintained and kept available for the benefit of the community. The project has appointed the beneficiaries with higher motivation and interest as coordinators, to ensure that more people keep profiting from the centres’ services. “We are proud of the partnership built under this project, of the partners involved and the budgetary allocations”, explains Anna Voichenko. In fact, the team is now eager to launch the “Active Village 2” project, which will expand the offered services, and develop the “kitchen-garden” model. This time though, taking into account the energy efficiency component.