Opinion digest: Siret Kotka on the support, or lack thereof, for Estonia's farmers (1)
Vice-Chairman of the Riigikogu’s Rural Affairs Committee MP Siret Kotka (Center) found that while Estonia's farmers have recently suffered one blow after another, the current Estonian government owes them more support than they have been paid, and likewise found that it is precisely domestically grown food that should make up the backbone of Estonian security.
"Pig farming was only just recently still a commercially profitable and desperately-needed rural job-creating and -sustaining branch of the economy," wrote Kotka in an opinion piece published by Estonian daily Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian). By now, however, the situation had reversed entirely, and more and more rural business-owners are being forced to permanently close up shop as the current government's inability to stem the spread of African swine fever (ASF) is forcing pig farmers to sell their pork for pennies on the euro.
Kotka also pointed out that farmers were suffering due to the government's political games and the resulting import ban on Estonian agricultural products by the Russian Federation, which among other things has had serious negative effects on the dairy sector. She noted that milk prices in Estonia had long since reached a point where farmers were unable to so much as break even, adding that "We are very close to repeating the scenario more than ten years ago in which farmers were forced to take nearly 30,000 dairy cows to the slaughterhouse as a result of the Russian crisis."
The committee vice-chairman recalled a demonstration staged by Estonian farmers last September in which 101 tractors made their way up to Toompea Hill in Tallinn, where the seat of the Estonian government is located. "I am convinced that if farmers hadn't come [with their tractors] before the Riigikogu last year, neither Minister of Rural Affairs [Urmas] Kruuse nor Prime Minister [Taavi] Rõivas would have given a single cent of additional support for rural life from the state budget," she asserted, finding that it was the farmers' robust demostration which led to their being paid out 3 million euros in state aid.
Kotka went on to point out, however, that Rõivas' government actually owes the country's farmers unpaid domestic food production aid totaling in excess of 70 million euros, and highlighted the fact that unlike Estonia, other European countries actually paid out such aid to the extent prescribed. "If things keep going like this, we won't be far off from a time when Estonian milk and meat become deficit goods and maintained fields are replaced by fields of burdock," she warned.
It is high time that Estonian farmers are paid promised transitional support as dictated by the law, Kotka declared, noting that farmers could easily be supported with 19.5 million euros in next year's state budget. She criticized the ruling Reform Party as being unsupportive of rural life, but expressed hope that perhaps the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (IRL) or Social Democratic Party (SDE) might show concern for the worries plaguing the country's farmers.
"Being dependent on imported food shows our country's vulnerability and dependence on foreign forces, which is why hopefully it is understood that one of the pillars of every normal state's security policy is a proper supply of domestic food," Kotka concluded.