SEATTLE — Estonia is a small country in Eastern Europe. In 2016, it had a population of just over 1,316,000 and a GDP of $21.137 billion. It ranks 30th on the Human Development Index, just below Brunei and just above Andorra. These five facts about hunger in Estonia are crucial to understanding the effects on the country.
- Hunger in Estonia was at its highest in the early 1990s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia’s economic relations with Russia and other former Soviet states became unpredictable. They could no longer count on their former trading partners to buy their goods or to sell them goods at a reasonable price. Rations were instituted, limiting bread consumption and limiting milk to children under the age of four.
- During Estonia’s transition, Russia was also undergoing a food shortage and could no longer export wheat to Estonia. The accompanying fall in industrial and agricultural production led to a country-wide energy and food crisis.
- In 2013, 22.1 percent of the Estonian population was living in relative poverty and 8 percent in absolute poverty. The relative poverty rate was highest among the elderly and the absolute poverty rate was highest among children and young people.
- In 2013, the Estonian Defense Industry Union and the Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce signed a guarantee of food security. At the time, Estonian producers could supply the entire population with enough meat, milk, grains and potatoes, but not vegetables or fruit. Estonian producers could only supply 70 percent of the country’s vegetables and 10 percent of its fruit. To reach complete food security, the government committed to expanding the agricultural and food industries, which have already been growing quickly since Estonia joined the European Union.
- Hunger in Estonia is also being combatted locally. The United Methodist Church in Voru saw a need in their community and opened a food bank, partially funded by a Norwegian aid organization called NyStart i Ost, and modeled it after the larger national Estonian Foodbanc. The project was so successful that over time it grew into the Voru Foodbanc and became officially affiliated with the national food bank.
Some industries in Estonia may still be working to return to their Soviet-era levels, but with the support of faith organizations, local community action and the European Union, there is hope that complete food security will be achieved.
– Olivia Bradley