The European Forum for Agricultural and Rural Advisory Services EUFRAS invited to a Conference in Jurmala, Latvia, to promote the networking ideas among rural advisory services in eastern Europe. The Conference was titeled "Advisory service networking promotion towards Eastern Europe for Agriculture and Rural Development".

EUFRAs Conference "Advisory service networking promotion towards Eastern Europe for Agriculture and Rural Development"

Conference Advisory service networking promotion towards Eastern Europe for Agriculture and Rural Development took place in Jūrmala, Latvia form 15th till 16th of September, 2014 and was organized as major forum for networking and exchange of knowledge, experiences and ideas around the Europe. The purpose of the conference was to share actualities of different international networking possibilities and promote cooperation with Eastern European countries.

This conference was organized by European Forum for Agricultural and Rural Advisory Services, Latvian Rural Network and Latvian Rural Advisory and Training Centre and gathered together representatives from agricultural governmental organizations, rural and agricultural advisory organizations from EU, Central and Eastern Europe and NGOs active in rural areas. More than 15 countries were represented from both EU Member States and Eastern European neighbour countries - Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Serbia and Bulgaria.

As Matthias Langemeyer, Deputy Head of Unit „European Network and Monitoring of Rural Development Policy“, EC, stressed at the conference - national advisory services are those that are able to bring together a variety of agricultural and rural development stakeholders - scientists, farmers, non-governmental organizations and private entities. Mutual cooperation and the exchange of experience is essential not only for EU countries, but also for EU partners in the east - Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. The EC representative noted a series of programs, which can be found within the framework of support for a variety of collaborative projects, ranging from seminars and trainings up to harmonization of the legislative agenda.

EUFRAS Board Member Michael Kuegler informed participants about several topics - the German FiBL Projekte GmbH experience in organic farming consultant training and certification as well as about qualification and competence development for extension staff in rural areas of Europe with certification system CECRA. As this system originally functions only within German-speaking countries, but is currently planned to be introduced in other European countries, it provoked discussions and questions of participants.

Latvian Rural Advisory and Training Centre Director Kaspars Žūriņš shared the experience about the cross-border cooperation within international "Baltic Deal" project which gathered farmers and farmers’ advisory organisations around the Baltic Sea in a unique effort to raise the competence concerning agri-environmental practises and measures with the aim to support farmers to reduce nutrient losses from farms, with maintained production and competiveness.

The representatives of Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus also performed with the presentations about the agricultural advisory system work in their countries. Representatives from these countries stressed that for the acquisition of new knowledge they are willing to work more closely with EUFRAS and use the opportunities offered by the EU.

In the second part of the conference World Café workshop method was organized. Following a short introduction on the objectives of the World Café workshop participants were splitted into 3 groups according to topics - Thematic Networks, Regional Sub Networks and CECRA and qualification of advisers. The groups rotated and discussed specific items at various tables. The ideas collected at each table were presented by the respective group leader and are summarized below.

Workshop: Thematic Networks

1) Thematic networks could be made for minority specialist sector - EUFRAS specific projects as well as other agricultural sectors related to bees, herbs, rabbits and so on. However such networks would be difficult to manage in large scale, they would be more suitable in regional level.

2) Impact factor approach focuses on different funding possibilities through projects, for example in organic farming, environmental protection, micro financing, land degradation, forest management, wetland construction, applied science + EIP etc.

3) Methodology approach could be used to develop new tools in IT sector.

4) There could be owners driven sub networks – inside interest of exchange of practices used in different companies.

5) Marketing of advisory work – for clients, for projects.

6) Thematic Networks could be: public service oriented; resource efficiency oriented.

7) Action to driven thematic networks could come from EUFRAS Secretariat and its members by:

  • Encouraging networks;
  • Listing of advisors and fields of expertise (experience/copy of GFRAS tool);
  • Maintaining advisory support tool database (in integrated pest management, precision farming, etc.);
  • Ensuring impact review (member to member);
  • Use of distance tools for setting up networks.

Workshop: Regional Sub Networks

1) Regional sub networks should be divided by language, geographical territory as for example Baltic Sea Region and by the regional RDP (e.g. environmental protection).

2) Regional sub networks should be made by:

  • Updating contact list and communication platform;
  • Ensuring sufficient amount of regional events and meetings;
  • Developing internet webpage that could be part of EUFRAS webpage.

3) Regional sub network only works, if the initiative comes from members themselves.

Workshop: CECRA and qualification of advisers

1) Certification should be based on company’s vision, strategy and tasks to develop employees’ professional, methodology, personal and social skills.

2) Certificate is good quality of work, but maybe not good for competition?

3) Action would be - to go further and agree for standard of certification.