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Going Organic in Estonia E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 May 2007
Going Organic in Estonia


Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)

By Steve Dube

The second instalment of Carolyn Wacher's three-part series on her trip around Eastern Europe finds her in Estonia. Carolyn, from Organic Centre Wales, won a scholarship to look at agri-tourism on organic farms ESTONIA, May 29 to June 5: Vcentsru County in the far south-east of Estonia - and one of the most underdeveloped areas with high unemployment - was my destination.

It is very flat with hard winters, so year-round tourism is possible, including cross-country skiing.

It is also ideal for arable farms, and organic farmers in Vcentsru represent 10% of organic producers in Estonia.

The 85ha of Roosu farm, 20km north of Vcentsru town, with organic barley, rape, summer and winter wheat and oats, together with a clover crop and some fallow land, belongs to Aivar Rosenberg and is run by his son.

The cereal crop is sold to an organic farmer on the Latvian border but Aivar hopes the market will improve, together with the prices.

He has weed problems, managed by an Einbok weeder, but is pleased with the biodiversity and monitors from the Centre for Ecological Engineering at Tartu are also impressed by his bird and earthworm populations.

His Soviet-built block was once the school he attended as a pupil. He later worked there as a janitor and then, with credit from the local bank, bought it at auction.

He now runs it as holiday accommodation and a village community centre.

One of the neighbouring farmers, Urmas Tubis, is also organic. His house and workshop used to house 200 dairy cattle in Soviet times.

Now they have 7.7ha of mainly blackcurrants, which they hope to sell in the local markets.

Jcentseniidu holiday house, at Trolla close to Lake Vaskna, is run by the extended family of Kalju Mangli, who farm 90ha, of which 60ha is forest.

Kalju was formerly a dairy farmer but with the collapse of farming in the 1990s, largely because of the economics of milk collection, he worked in the forestry and now has only five goats for milk and meat.

He built the first of his two holiday houses (and a sauna) in 1997 and won a prize for his promotional material in 2003.

He rents the houses out for 210 EEK (pounds 8.50) per night and he hopes for more visitors this year to cover his costs.

Our visit to an organic farm at Hartsmee was brief but informative. With 76ha, of which 30 are arable with 3ha potatoes, the farmer has two milking cows, seven sows and a Duroc x wild boar.

He gained organic certification in 1994 but, due to the lack of local abattoir facilities, he sells his piglets on to other farmers.

He keeps some cereals for pig feed but sells between six and seven tonnes to other farmers and his wife uses three tonnes a year to bake bread, which she sells together with soft cheese to tourist providers and markets.

Vaskna Tourism Farm is another successful example of farm diversification.

Margid and her husband, who previously worked in the forest, bought 15ha in 1993 and initially converted one barn.

They made as much money from their first two visitors as they did from raising a calf to cow, so they extended the barns to accommodate other visitors.

Now the neighbours work together and Margid buys in organic produce from Hartsmee, together with local craft products which she sells to visitors.

Future plans include converting their heating system from electricity to wood.

Margid has been on training courses with the Estonian Farmers' Union to Denmark and she is positive about the future of their business, which employs both her and her husband full-time, in addition to local workers.

Arossa Villa, which sleeps up to 40 visitors, is run by Tiit Soosaar and his wife Klli and the success of their enterprise relies on the beauty of the countryside, organic food from the nearby farmland and good quality of service.

Tiit is enthusiastic about an ambitious vision to convert Vcentsru into an ecological county, combining organic agriculture, alternative energy, tourism, and alternative building styles.

The proposed pilot project offers the possibility of replacing conventional foods with ecological ones, seeking to reverse the current dietary trends and improving the health of the people, especially in the towns.

Ten of the 148 watermills in the area have already been restored and the utilisation of traditional farm buildings for tourism have created a positive energy. Tiit acknowledges that organic production has grown fast in some parts of Estonia, largely due to EU support, but he feels that growth may be restricted by lack of processing facilities - currently only 11 processors are registered in the whole of Estonia.: A modern republic:The Republic of Estonia was regarded as one of the best-prepared countries for EU membership. The Baltic state was praised for the modernisation of its administration. With a population of 1.36m and an area of 45,000 sq km - of which 10% consists of 1,520 islands and 37% of agricultural land - the reform of the agricultural sector following collectivisation under the Soviet regime presents problems and, in the south-east, about 20% of the arable and grassland remains abandoned.

Organic farming has increased significantly over the past 15 years and organic farmers now receive area subsidies but the market remains underdeveloped.

In the four years to 2004, the number of organic farms grew from 231 to 810 - 2.25% of farms - with the average size increasing from 42.74 ha (106 acres) to 56.81ha (140 acres). A total of 46,016 ha (113,700 acres) was farmed organically.

Rural tourism in Estonia is promoted by Maaturism, a non-profit-making organisation set up in 2000. The 326 members represent 45% of the total accommodation providers but only five are organic farmers.

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