Vision 2025 – Finland as an operating environment for rural entrepreneurship

by Tarja Kankkunen & Mari Luukkonen

The theme of the last module of our first year of Equine economy studies in HAMK University of Applied Sciences in Mustiala, has been Production and economic planning. The summary task of the module was to describe and discuss Finland as an operating environment for rural entrepreneurship now and after ten years. To set the work in motion we were instructed to use PESTLE or PESTEL analysis (see Pestel: A framework for Considering Challenges) to reflect on the Political, Economic, Social, Technical, Environmental & Legal factors that affect the future of our nation.

Based on the PESTEL analysis we were to develop a vision for future by discussing it under the following four topics, which we have also used as the titles of our presentation:

  1. Current situation – Analysis of the state of affairs in 2015
  2. Change factors – Expected effective phenomena
  3. Vision 2025
  4. Core programme – How to maintain the functionality of the economy on a good level.

Instead of trying to cover the whole gamut of rural entrepreneurship we decided to emphasise local and organic food production, and divert, where possible, towards an equine economy point of view, thus delimiting our focus to areas that interest us and benefit our chosen line of studies most.


Currently the survival of the fittest principle, big is beautiful, and diversify or die seem to be the rules of thumb for rural entrepreneurship. Farm sizes are growing, as are the investments in agricultural machinery and technology. Small, unprofitable farms and other agriculture related enterprises are sold to the big ones and through this shift the agricultural activity as business becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. At the same time the rural communities are losing citizens as the depopulation of the countryside continues, owing to lack of work and receding social and health services, among other things.

On the other hand, a short review of the world of media, web pages, discussion groups and blogs reveals that the ideas of subsistence agriculture or self-sufficiency farming, permaculture (or forest garden), local food and barter economy are becoming more and more popular. People are already establishing tiny plantations on (their own or rented) allotments, backyards, and even on the balconies of their city homes. Energy and space efficient innovations, such as vertical gardens, which are no longer just futuristic fantasies but already implemented elsewhere in the world, are arriving in Finland and boosting these trends further (see e.g. Urban farming looking up in Singapore). As it happens, immigrants have proved particularly effective allotment farmers (see e.g Yle uutiset 23.5.2013).

Alongside with the adoption of new technological developments that are designed to boost both the profitability and the sustainability of agriculture, more and more people are also interested in returning to environmentally and ethically sound older technologies, agricultural methods and animal husbandry. Permaculture and keeping a handful of chicken in the backyard for eggs are examples of this trend, as well as the gradual return of workhorses into small scale farming and forestry.

An increasing number of people are searching for a house and a little bit of land in the countryside to actualise their subsistence farmer ideologies and sustainable life-style dreams.

Urban-rural division by SYKE, the Finnish Environment Institute 2014

Urban-rural division by SYKE, the Finnish Environment Institute 2014

The map above illustrates the urban-rural division in Finland (see Helminen et al 2014). It shows that Finland has remained a sparsely inhabited country where rurality is emphasised. The local centres in the countryside are nodes of private and public services. The rural areas near towns have kept their popularity as residential areas.


Two parties of the same colour but seemingly opposite views, Central party, perceived as the exponent of the farmers, and the Greens, the arch enemy of farmers it sometimes seems, were hailed as the winners of the 2015 parliamentary election. However, the apparent tension between the world views and values they represent, turns out to be a fruitful political force towards economically positive changes as well as getting the general public behind Finland’s long-term energy and climate policy objectives. Already many of the new trends that affect the current and future of rural entrepreneurship are based on values in which the wellbeing of humans and animals, beauty and justice are emphasised.

The growing significance of countryside as provider of leisure and recreation for the town dwellers reduces the rural-urban confrontation. Owing to the rising number of senior citizens who seek to live in a versatile and communal rural manner, more and more ”senior villages” are founded in the countryside. At the same time the extension of employment areas augments the number of inhabitants in the rural areas near towns.

Nationwide implementation of information communication technologies (ICT) enables families to re-inhabit the countryside without losing contact to society at large or compromising the education of their children.

Plant based, fast renewable fuels, building materials and fibres are under way. They will replace heavy fossilic fuels and slowly renewing energy sources where-ever possible, bringing along a big boost and major changes of trends, habits and products in crop farming.

Water is a diminishing resource worldwide, but we have it and it becomes one of our unique national treasures. Many remarkable innovations, an extensive corpus of marketable knowhow and a significant number of expert and consultant service jobs ensue from the nationwide commitment to keep this universally valued resource clean.

Horses add business

Horses are a more and more visible part in the rural everyday life, and the equine economy is among the strong rural entrepreneurial activities. If the number of horses grows at the present rate, there will be about 90 000 horses by 2025. Calculations based on food sales in Finland have shown that in 2014 one horse ate 1,60€ worth of domestic fodder each day, adding up to 584€ in a year. Thus, 75 000 horses consumed nearly 44 000 000€ worth of fodder in 2014, and 90 000 horses would lift the sum close to 53 000 000 by 2025. (See Hevoset ja kunta/Horses and the municipality)


Finland is at the forefront of as well as a global forerunner in sustainable development and bio-energy know-how. Clean, sustainable and ethical production are important foundation stones for the Finnish agricultural industries and have been key elements in making our brands globally sought after.

As a nation Finland has reached a high level of self sufficiency in essential foodstuff by importing mainly what we cannot produce ourselves and exporting mainly highly refined and high quality organic food products that are in great demand elsewhere owing to our good reputation.

Local food, ethical meat, free fish and free range eggs are in demand. Below is a table showing the results of a survey made by Sitra in 2014 about the future beliefs and wishes of the 15-25-year old Finns concerning the countryside. According to the survey 60% of the respondents wanted to have local and organic food more readily available. In accordance with their consumption and eating habits the trends of local and organic food have established themselves as a part of everyday life by 2025.

Young people's hopes and wishes for the future of Finnish countryside

Young people’s hopes and wishes for the future of Finnish countryside. (Source: Maamerkit -barometri 2011)

Meat eaters want to reduce their impact on the environment by consuming less meat and preferring meat that has been either homegrown, hunted or farmed and raised in an ethical manner using methods that are benevolent to the animals and the environment. With the diminished meat consumption and as the number of vegetarian consumers has risen to nearly 50% of the population, many former meat farmers are making fortunes by buying protein rich crops and processing them into consumable protein replacements of milk, cheese and meat. There is also a boom in greenhouse businesses and popularity of domestic vegetables owing to the comprehensive implementation of renewable energy sources and environmentally sustainable technologies used in the greenhouses.

The challenges of ecological food production with minimal impact on the environment have instigated collaboration between the entrepreneurs operating in the countryside. They aim to keep the further processing of their produce near the home farms. Therefore, the major part of the products of the small and medium size enterprises are sold directly from the farm or in the local food market.

ICT is part of everyday life and the national network that covers all of Finland enables equal use of services throughout the country. Working independently of time and place has become common practice and improved the possibilities of distance working from the countryside. Also, because of the increased rural entrepreneurial activities, more and more people have found work in their home communities.

The missing public transport has been replaced by ridesharing and electronically provided services. (See e.g. Living and services in the countryside/ Asuminen ja palvelut maaseudulla)

Horses enliven the countryside – and sometimes the city as well

The number of horses has continued to grow already for a couple of decades and it is expected to reach nearly 90 000 by 2030. Horse breeding activity is on the rise and especially the appreciation of the Finnish Universal as a versatile all-purpose horse has augmented its breeding and the birth rate of foals. Preservation of the diverse genetic heritage has gained attention along with the renewed breeding statutes.

A Finnhorse foal (photo: ©Mari Luukkonen)

A Finnhorse foal (photo: ©Mari Luukkonen)

With the intensification of breeding activity the demand for horse breeding farms has grown, and they are situated in the countryside. The services provided by the breeding farms include training of foals. Co-ownership of broodmares has become common, which has further increased the demand for breeding farms.

The active engagement of the equine organisations has helped to reduce the discrepancies between the people inside equine industries and the people outside them. As a result horse carriages, mounted policemen, individual riders and pony riding events no longer seem out of place on the streets of Helsinki, our capital, and have become a common sight in most cities. Equine entrepreneurship is taken into account in regional policies, and in the community planning projects enough green areas are left in the vicinity of towns to provide for the needs of equine entrepreneurs. (See e.g. Equine industries future workshop/Hevosalan tulevaisuustyöpaja)

Car-free day in Helsinki (photo: ©Mari Luukkonen)

Car-free day in Helsinki (photo: ©Mari Luukkonen)

Hay production

As each horse is estimated to need 1 – 1,5 hectares of field for pasture and forage, the whole horse population will need 90.000 to 150.000 hectares of field. Thus, producing fodder for horses is an important source of income in the countryside. The growing number of horses needs more forage, which leads to an increasing number of farms specialised in growing hay. Stables that are situated near towns and built-up areas will buy ecologically grown, good quality hay and oats from contract farmers, with whom customerships are established for several years. In addition to the fodder itself the product package also contains storage on the farm and delivery to the customer at an agreed time. Because the storage spaces of the stables are often very limited, the stable entrepreneur needs the services of a reliable fodder and hay supplier, who will make the deliveries at regular intervals. (See Kuiva heinä edelleen tallien suosikki/ Dry hay is still favoured by the stables)

The environmental effect of grazing

The grown number of horses has also increased the amount of land used for pasture. Grazing horses can keep wide areas free of coppice and unwanted bushes, boost biodiversity and maintain the rurality of the landscape. Use of horses as managers of natural meadows, shore areas and traditional landscapes has increased considerably. (See Hevosyrittäjyys kaupungin reunavyöhykkeellä/Equine entrepreneurship on the border zone of the town)

Grazing horses (photo: ©Mari Luukkonen)

Grazing horses (photo: ©Mari Luukkonen)

Hobby horse and equine tourism

Horses and riding as a hobby have grown very popular among grown-up and senior citizens. For this hobby there are well productized services that also benefit other services and the environment of the countryside. Use of horses for tourism has grown in the sparsely populated rural areas with wide-ranging possibilities for horseback hiking in nature. The agro-tourism entrepreneurs have formed networks and joined forces to provide services along the horse hiking trails.


Horseback hiking with Finnhorses (photo ©Philip Dean)

The workhorse

People who are looking for vibes and slowed-down lifestyle provide good prospects for rural equine enterprises. “Alternative” forms of pastime, such as use of workhorses in small scale farm work, have become more common and popular. A growing number of homestead farmers want to use their horses for work on their own farm, to transport firewood from the forest to the farm, or to turn the potato patch.

Training horses for work use has increased, and workhorses have become a plausible option for forest management in many vulnerable areas, such as protected woodland and traditional cultural landscapes.

Doing forest work with a horse (photo ©Mari Luukkonen)

Doing forest work with a horse (photo ©Mari Luukkonen)

Use of horse meat

The increased demand for local food has also increased the demand for and appreciation of horse meat. People consider horse meat to be ethically and economically produced. The general opinion allows people to see a horse as a production animal, whose meat is not wasted but utilised for food consumption. There is no actual horse meat production, but the annual attrition of horses suffice to cover also the increased demand.

The number of butchers that accept horses and sheep have grown. Horses are taken to local slaughterhouses, from where their meat is delivered to the local food markets to be sold. To diversify the supply the horse meat products are often refined into sausages, preserves and so on. Demand for horse meat has raised the prices received from slaughtered horses. (See also Hevoset ja kunta/ Horses and the municipality)


How to maintain the functionality of the economy on a good level is a political question. Answering it requires deciding first what functionality and a good level mean and bring out the values and ideologies that lie behind those meanings.

From some points of view, the present state of Finnish economy is relatively stable and good and attests to reasonable functionality – at least when compared to many other economies in Europe, not to mention outside it. From these points of view, which could be called conservative, maintaining the functionality of the economy on a good level would only require small adjustments to and updates of the present policies. What role the rest of the world is given in these considerations differs depending on the underlying values and could be, for instance, “non-significant”, “a threat to watch out”, or “a source to exploit for our well-being”.

From some other, considerably more radical points of view it is important to take a wider perspective and not only consider the economic state of Finland but the socio-economic and ecological state of the whole globe. From such perspectives concerns for the alarming socio-economical and ecological future prospects of our planet and the fears that stem from them are taken seriously, not just as a potential way of making money.

Like most people, who would like to have their cake and eat it, we seem to have coined up a a vision and core programme that would fit somewhere between these conservative and radical points of view. According to it, saving both the planet and the Finnish agriculture, as well as maintaining the vitality of our countryside are necessary.

The mantras of continuous economic growth and maximisation of profits have been challenged with ideals of slowing down and ”less is more”. If we take into a account the damaging impact that the first approaches have had on the well-being of humans, animals and the nature so far, and the healing effects discovered in the latter, the choice seems obvious. Besides, as Pekka Borg, a doctor of philosophy and a former Inspector General of the Finnish Forest Administration has put it, the less a person needs, the less he or she suffers from the fluctuations of economy (see Hidasta elämää/ Slow life).

The growing size of farms and farming machinery is more likely to create than help overcome economical, ecological and social challenges in the agricultural sector. If, on the other hand, farmers began to invest more in diversity and quality than monoculture and quantity – i.e. following the principles of ethical and sustainable food production – it seems likely that farms would gradually grow smaller, which, in turn, would increase livelihood opportunities in the countryside, because more farmers would be needed to maintain an adequate level of agricultural production. But it is doubtful that such downshifting would succeed without any other motivation than the idea of doing your best to save the planet. Since the Finnish agriculture is dependent on EU subsidies to a great extent and its current trends are shaped by EU directives, a stronger push towards downshifting would be a change in the EU subsidies policy, whereby quality would be rewarded over quantity.

* * *



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