Learning about the role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development – student’s reflection (4)

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. This post is the last one in a series of posts in which the participating students reflect on the programme and share their experiences.

By Camilo Carrillo Wilisch (Erasmus student Master Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University):

From the 15th to the 28th of April I participated in the IP “Role of agriculture and natural resources in sustainable rural development” in Kaunas, Lithuania. The preparation for this IP started some weeks on forehand. Together with the other students, we discussed about the expectations and motivation for participating in the course. In my case, I visited Lithuania few years ago and I liked the country and it’s people a lot, the IP represented a wonderful opportunity to visit and learn more about Lithuania. In addition I’m a Erasmus-Student from Berlin and I study environmental technology. In Wageningen I followed courses of the BSc Minor Sustainable agriculture and consumption. My appetite for new experiences and knowledge and my interests on the links between rural and urban areas, multifunctional agriculture and sustainable food production and consumption were the main reasons why I wanted to participate in the IP. I did expect to get an overview about the agribusiness sector, it’s relation with rural development, and the natural resource management in Lithuania. With my expectations and my small luggage I traveled to Lithuania in company of the other students.

The IP

In the first week, we had different lectures to provide us with a small overview about the current situation of agriculture, the implementation of the CAP and about rural areas in Lithuania. The lectures were accompanied with some evening activities, for instance, country presentations with food tasting, traditional Lithuanian dances and music. After these lectures we were split in different groups. Each Groups visited a different region and each group was asked to raise questions about two different topics. My group was responsible to ask about the social and cultural aspects of the Kedainiai region. This region is well-known in Lithuania for its agricultural activities and fertile soils. Furthermore thanks to the connectivity with the other Baltic Countries represents the region a strategic location for different companies. The visit to the region was very intense, there were many visits organized and the time was very short to collect all the information expected from the different stakeholders. After the region Visit the groups worked on a SWOT analysis to inform the fellow students about the observations in the different regions. In the second week besides some methodology lectures, new groups were established and using the logical framework method some problems of the Lithuanian rural areas were identified and some strategies to overcome the problems were drafted.

Positive and negative impressions

I was a little disappointed and scared at the first day of the IP. I was surprised to hear from some participants, that their goal was to learn English. The communication obstacles affected the group works and IP dynamics. However, the different positive aspects made me easily forget about the language barriers and different motives of participation. I learned a lot from the methodology lectures, the facilities were great, I met interesting and dedicated students that have similar questions in life as I do and I reached one of my goals, which was to visit and learn more about Lithuania. From the trip many questions remained without answer. I learned that comparing two different countries (regions) is not always the best approach to understand how society works in the ‘unknown’ country. I think that in the Dutch context it is extremely hard to understand which kind of processes influence and determine the Lithuanian rural development. However, I hope that with my background and the work done in Kaunas some of the strategies proposed can be applied  to enhance the sustainable development of rural areas in Lithuania.