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Module 3 - Estonia: Transition to Private Extension Advisory Services

What’s innovative? Establishing a Private Advisory Services Development Fund and using different extension strategies, including the Internet, for different categories of farmers.

Since independence in 1991, Estonia has followed an open and liberal reform path in which agriculture is important to economic growth and export earnings. Before independence, agricultural production was organized in approximately 350 large state cooperatives, each managing some 3,500 hectares with about 300 employees. Assets of state and collective farms were privatized after independence, and the farm structure evolved toward smaller-size family farms. The agronomic advisory service before independence was highly specialized, serving state and collective farms and ensuring the delivery of centrally planned production targets. Advisors did not provide business- or market-related advice. After independence, new private farmers lacked business experience and needed advice on production techniques, business operations, and farm management.

Project Objectives and Description

The objectives of the agriculture project were to increase rural incomes and stimulate the rural economy. Project components included land reform, farm drainage rehabilitation, land use management, agricultural advisory services, food quality and veterinary laboratories, and project management.


The extension component targeted different categories of farmers using different extension strategies, depending on their information needs, purchasing power, and access to technologies and solutions. To make the strategies demand-driven and relevant, a National Agricultural Extension Task Force was created, whose members included farmers, advisers, and public officials. For two years, the group generated ideas, monitored developments, and formulated concepts and strategies. The group’s function is continuing under an informal advisory concept group made up of major stakeholders.


Privately operated advisory services were intended to provide agronomic and farm business advice for the most commercially viable farms (about 3,700). The project established a Private Advisory Services Development Fund to support a demand-driven advisory service, which funded certified private advisers on a contract basis. Private advisers were trained in methodology and technical subjects, and an Association of Rural Advisors in Estonia was created. A system for certification of advisers was put in place under the Ministry of Agriculture, and only certified advisers qualify for advisory contracts that are partly subsidized by the Fund. Government subsidies for individual advisory contracts between farmers and advisers were to be gradually reduced over a nine-year period (from 90 percent in 1996 to 0 percent in 2004). However, phasing out of the subsidy has been delayed for a few years in response to slower-than-anticipated growth in farm incomes.


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