Learning about the role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development – student’s reflection (3)

Together with four students of Wageningen University, I spend two weeks in Kaunas, Lithuania to represent Wageningen University, and the Rural Sociology Group, at this years’ ‘Intensive Programme’ on rural development. In a series of posts, the participating students reflect on the programme and share their experiences.

By Tikva Kooima (student Regional Development and Innovation at Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences (part of Wageningen UR):

In April, we went with a group of five people of Wageningen University to Lithuania to participate in an intensive international conference about rural development, hosted by the Aleksandro Stulginskio University of Kaunas. Without knowing the details, I went quite open-minded to this conference, and filled with lots of ideas, experiences and impressions, I went home.

The first days

The first two days  were filled with lectures which were more or less associated with rural development in Lithuania. It was exciting to follow classes with about 50 international students from all over Europe with totally different backgrounds. In the evening we were introduced to the countries. The different countries presented themselves with a presentation followed by delicious national food specialties.

The trip

After two days, we went in separate groups to different regions of Lithuania. The assignment was to ask as much as possible questions to different groups of the population. It had to result in an analysis of the region whereby we made use of the SWOT model (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Treats).I went to the Dzukija region, which is the south-eastern part of Lithuania. We visited farms, community centres, the church of the local community, local community businesses, nature reservations, beautiful forests and more. During the day we ate local food, which was often meat, but it was very tasty. On a day, we visited about five different places, so it was intensive and making notes was my way to keep up with the information . It varied from guided tours to visiting places where we participated in tractor driving, the making of easter eggs and traditional bread baking. I was impressed by the beautiful natural environment, which is definitely a strength of the country.  Many young people however leave the small villages which is a serious problem in Lithuania. We discovered that institutions are not effectively cooperating with each other which needs improvement.  This analysis was a basis for the second week of the conference.

A strategic plan

The second week consisted of excursions and lectures and our goal was to make a strategic plan to contribute to the rural development of Lithuania. Our group was focussed on the institutional surroundings and based on a problem analysis, we made a plan to improve the cooperation between these institutes. At the end of the conference, we presented the proposal to a varying audience. A representative of the Lithuanian government was willing to present it to the national  government. After all, I was glad we contributed to the development of Lithuania with this conference.

It seems to me that Lithuanian are willing to put efforts to develop their country, which is very positive. I appreciated it to see the cultural aspects of Lithuania, like the traditional handcrafts, the great food and the kind people. After all, it was a wonderful experience and I want to give thanks to Lithuania for showing their country and for giving the opportunity to learn from it.