Rietavas as a Food Innovation Center of the South Baltic Region
On 13 February 2020, honorable guests – entrepreneurs, farmers, and scientists from all over Lithuania, representatives of local municipalities from Telšiai, Plungė and Rietavas also guests from Denmark – gathered at Rietavas Tourism and Business Information Center. The international event – Roundtable Meeting about Public Sector Food Strategies and Public Procurement in Lithuanian Regions and Municipalities – highlighted the importance of local produce. It was discussed, how food culture and a strategic approach to it could make the region more attractive.
Ensuring that the production of the local producers is not forgotten
The Roundtable Meeting in Rietavas that focused on regional and local policy and food culture is a part of continuous event cycle in the EU Interreg project South Baltic Food Innovation (SBFOODINNO) which started in 2017. Public sector driving food development is a theme of one of the three work packages in the project, which aims to generate growth in food SME based on public food market, where cross-border and trans sectoral activities act as a case for developing and implementing ways to innovate and stimulate growth in Food SME based on public market in the South Baltic Region. Each region is made unique by its people, their ideas, their courage and their focus. Local traditions and local initiatives are very important in the search for local identity. Discussions forming a partnership between science, business and municipality and developing a strategic approach to local produce and its market can bring enormous benefits to the whole region, SME also healthy food production and its development.
Food is a uniting theme
Laima Dockevičienė, the Director of Rietavas Tourism and Business Information Center (Rietavas TVIC), stressed the importance of this event, saying that there is no event, project or guest reception without food. The Association “Milk Road” curated by Rietavas TVIC has become an associated partner of SBFOODINNO project and has perfectly integrated into all project activities. According to the Director, Rietavas is rich in rural communities, which have the distinctive recipes and are rooted in culinary traditions passed down by their parents and grandparents. People from major cities come to Rietavas because they are looking for healthier and more natural products, and they are discovering local communities, local artisans and farmers. Their production is widely described on the Internet and presented at the city festivals. The food industry is one of the largest economies in the world that needs scientific knowledge, awareness of environmental standards and political incentives. Although farms can produce healthy, high-quality food products, it is still difficult in Lithuania for local producers to access public sector companies due to strict procurement procedures and extensive documentation. Naturally, questions are raised whether children, old people or patients of Rietavas Municipality are eating reasonably well.
The Director was happy to say, that Rietavas TVIC has gathered a lot of experience within the project activities in many Baltic Region countries for knowledge bridging and visiting food laboratories. While presenting SBFOODINNO essence, L. Dockevičienė noted, that the food sector encourages to take new technologies and their application into consideration. Nevertheless, the role of collaboration between scientists, business and municipality is also important in order to bring the producer closer to the consumer.
Rasa Baliulevičienė, Rietavas TVIC and Michael Christiansen, Univesity College Absalon
Rietavas is the cradle of innovations
Antanas Černeckis, The Mayor of Rietavas Municipality, also greeted the guests. According to the Mayor, Rietavas is a historically formed cradle of innovations. From old times, the first steps were taken here in the field of technical innovation and implementing what was then new and unknown. The first light bulb came on in Rietavas. In 1882 on the initiative of nobleman Bogdan Oginskis the first telephone call was made in Rietavas manor and the first private telephone line connected Plungė and Kretinga estates. According to the Mayor, there are many talented business and science people in Lithuania who are capable of acting and implementing the most beautiful initiatives. People gathering for common projects, trainings, discussions bring common benefits, while generation of new ideas, courage and concentration make it possible to innovate and produce products that are attractive to the local market. The Mayor wished good work and innovative ideas to the participants of the Roundtable.
Good practice from Denmark
SBFOODINNO project, main activities and results were presented by Michael Christiansen, who is a Project Manager at project lead partner University College Absalon, Denmark. He admitted, that he is pleased for meaningful international meetings. M. Christiansen shared his country’s experience of focusing on public sector driving food development and talked about the potentials of plant proteins and the benefits of food system mapping for regional and local development. Meanwhile, the importance of food policy and strategic approach in rural areas was emphasized by Dalius Kaselis, student assistant at the University of Copenhagen. He presented the good case of the Bornholm Island, which aims to become a leader in the local food industry in Denmark. According to him, Bornholm food strategy has been under development for many years, where the input from the Farmers’ Association, the Municipality and the Food Heritage Organizations has been taken into consideration. The aim of the strategy is by the joint effort of science, business and tourism marketing to make the products of local producers the object of the island’s pride and tourist attraction. Here is expected to create the best foodstuffs environment in Denmark, provide business services on local produce and promote SME local business initiatives.
The growing potential of healthy nutrition
Živilė Raudonė, a researcher at the Lithuanian Institute of Agrarian Economics, emphasized the growing potential of a healthier diet and the importance of the participation of farmers, especially small farms, in the process of creating healthier food consumption traditions. She highlighted that special business models should be developed at the state level that would promote but not disrupt individual initiatives and cooperation. She stressed that the Public Procurement Office should also be involved in shaping the food development strategy in the country and traditional procurement, when it is only largest supplier offering the lowest price wins, could no longer be applied. She welcomed one of Rietavas TVIC project – the idea of using electric vehicles to deliver production of the local suppliers to the public institutions. Logistic chain solutions in order to involve local producers were sought.
Rimantas Čiutas, a scientist at the Vytautas Magnus University Agriculture Academy, emphasized that it is vital to change people’s eating habits, especially today, as the world is facing increasing climate change. According to him, society should gradually move from animal proteins to vegetable proteins, but all processes require the attention of scientists. Plants have a specific self-protection instinct, which releases substances toxic to the human body. For example, chia seeds that are often used uncooked can release lectins that are not very beneficial to the digestive system, so instead of being healthy food it becomes a poison. The scientist suggested that we look back at the historically typical plant crops, such as hemp and millet, which do not contain these substances. He stressed that a Food Council in Lithuania could be operating focusing on preserving small family farms, not on the unconditional control of producers and economies of scale.
Roundtable participants discussed in small groups and made suggestions for shaping municipal food strategies, where food strategies for SME around the world and in Lithuania were reviewed and good practices were shared.
This event is part of a huge SBFOODINNO project – a step towards healthier nutrition. The insights, suggestions and remarks of the Roundtable participants will be discussed at the conference in 20.-21. April in Rietavas.
From the left: Dalius Kaselis, University of Copenhagen, Rasa Viederytė, Klaipėda University, Laima Dockevičienė,RIetavas TVIC, Michael Christiansen, University College Absalon, Jolita Kaušiuvienė, University College Absalon and Rasa Baliulevičienė, Rietavas TVIC