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Estonia makes good progress in the organic sector

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

The most northerly Baltic state has gone through a remarkable development in the last 20 years, and today it’s full of surprises in many respects. As well as having a stable economy and an innovative IT sector, Estonia has an organic sector that is alive and well: 15 % of agricultural land is certified organic. Even though processing is still at an early stage, consumers are keen to buy regional and organically produced food. For example, the chain Biomarket has five stores in Tallinn where it sells a range of around 4,000 products. You find the organic idea has been taken up by restaurants in the tourism sector. Estonia will present its “natural” side as a partner country at the International Green Week in 2014.

(Picture: Agtitourism in Luhtre. Estonia offers nature in abundance and living traditions, but also a sound economic climate) In 2012, a consumer survey revealed that 82 % of Estonians would like to buy organic products. The main reasons they give are health and environmental protection. The Minister of Agriculture, Helir-Valdor Seeder, has adopted a green approach, and in the preface to a brochure on organic agriculture he writes: “The demand for organic food is growing worldwide, and a farmer with an eye to the future can be confident that this trend will continue.” He points out that it is important to operate with the future in mind, first to develop the domestic market and then to be on the lookout for other markets. Although Estonia is a little bigger than Holland and has only 1.3 million inhabitants, it has the advantage of being an economic success and of being the home of living traditions. (Picture: Minister of Agriculture Helir-Valdor Seeder has been in office for eight years and he supports organic agriculture)

Over the last ten years – eight of them with Seeder in charge – the area of organically certified land has expanded fivefold and in 2012 it constituted around 15.3 % of the total agricultural land (144,000 ha). There are nearly1,500 farms (1999: 89), with an average size of 98 ha. The six biggest farms have over 1,000 ha (mainly in the south and on the biggest island). The organic action plan 2007 - 2013 and a plan for rural development in the same period have moved organic agriculture forward. According to the minister, in the next period, especially product processing and adding value are to be promoted. This sector is still somewhat underdeveloped – there are only around 160 processing and retail companies in the organic sector. (Picture: Nature in abundance and extensive areas for wild collecting in Estonia)

For exporting primary products (for example, organic cereals and berries) Estonia has already established good contacts with, among others, neighbouring Baltic states, Germany (Gut Rosenkrantz) and Italy. In the near future, a large-scale storage facility for organic cereals is to be inaugurated, and this will give added impetus to cereal exporting. Estonia’s main organic exports are cereals, pulses, oilseeds, potatoes, field vegetables and berries. Estonia will present itself at the International Green Week in 2014 in Berlin under the motto “Naturally Estonia”. In the conventional sector, the level of self-sufficiency is 100 % - which is quite different from in the organic sector. The country exports 30 % of its milk production and 40 % of its pork. With the catch being seven times more than is sold on the domestic market, fish is their main export. (Picture: Estonia aims to expand the export of organic products)

In 1989, two years before independence from Russia, the Estonian Biodynamic Association was founded, and this event marked the beginning of the organic movement in Estonia. The following years saw the emergence of the “organic” trademark, more regional associations and inspection organizations. Organic legislation came into force in 1997, and three years later the Foundation for Organic farming and the Agri-Environment Department in the Ministry was founded. Since 2004, organic agriculture had even had its own department and, since 2008, a research centre for organic farming. Courses dealing with organic farming, processing and marketing are offered free of charge and, moreover, there is close collaboration with universities and research institutes. (Picture: Secretary of State Ruve Sank and the President of the Farmers Association Estonian Farmers` Federation in conversation)

The organic magazine “Mahepollumajanduse leht” appears every quarter. Estonia also plays a part in the IFOAM-EU-Group. For the purposes of marketing and discussing ideas and opinions, the associations are all members of the Estonian Organic Farming Platform. The cooperative Eesti Mahe has nearly 100 members. It takes charge of storing and marketing raw materials and it decides where to place fresh and processed organic products in the specialist trade and the big supermarkets like RIMI, Prisma, Selver, Konsum and Maximarket. (Picture: The discounter Konsum in the small town Rapla offers a sparse organic range)

Organic products have so far been marketed mainly via specialist stores and direct selling. It has been estimated that in 2011 the market share of organics in the retail trade was 1.6 %. Only 30 % of these organics were produced in Estonia itself, but the figure is rising. Organics are imported from a range of European countries. For example, the chain Biomarket offers a wide selection of German specialist brands. Since the price of food in Estonia is in general really high, there are product groups where the price of organic products is the same as for conventional products. However, in a study many interviewees stated that price was one of the main deterrents to buying organic products. (Picture: Big selection of organic products at Biomarket)

Across the whole country there are about 40 organic stores, of which 20 are located in the capital Tallinn (approximately 400,000 inhabitants). In addition, about 10 internet Shops market organics, and products can also be bought at farmers’ markets – there is still no farmers’ market devoted solely to organics. A positive example of the successful marketing of organic milk is milk vending machines that have proved to be popular with customers in supermarkets. (Picture: In his recently opened restaurant, a newcomer uses many regional products and, whenever they are available, organic products)

Efforts are being made in the catering sector too to raise the proportion of organics. Some restaurants and caterers are trying to include organic products in their offerings whenever they are available. Kindergartens and schools are showing more and more interest. The state and the organic associations are also active in advertising in the form of brochures, events, tasting sessions and the four-part TV series Mahemaa (Organic Land), that reported on organic farming and eating organic products.

Further information:

Organic consumer Portal

Online Shops:,,,,

(Pictures: Manor-house Sagadi     National Park                                        Eco Spa in Vihula


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