| Return to Index | Read Prev Msg | Read Next Msg |

Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Local coping strategies / Faroe Islands-Denmark.

Posted By: Joergen Ole Baerenholdt and Nils Aarsaether.
Date: Thursday, 17 June 1999, at 9:54 a.m.

Key words: community resource control, fisheries, marketing.


As I was expressing in the 1998 Paris workshop; I think the idea of universal and transferable "wise practices" can be questioned - apart from very general statements about participation, empowerment and sustainable development etc. What might be considered as wise in one environmental, social or cultural context, could be unwise in another. Apart from this contextual perspective, we also have the problem of interdependency, as practices in different localities may be interdependent; e.g. they depend on the same natural resources or market or they interact directly by flows of materials, goods, people or symbols in relations that may be highly unbalanced. Connectivity often implies a kind of zero-sum-situation, in which a successful development in locality "A" may imply a barrier to development in locality "B." In a world of more global connectivity, it thus may be unwise to transfer practices by copying but transmission of experiences of different opportunities in specific contexts and in more principal terms can be an important inspiration. Also, stimulating direct contact and support for forming relations between localities may be productive.



The following two case-stories from the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic are building on interviews and presentations at CCPP meetings in Klaksvik, Faroe Islands, June 1997; Isafjørdur, Iceland, March 1998 and Apatity, Russia, March 1999. Papers and work in progress by the Faroese researchers Gestur Hovgaard (Roskilde University and Center of Regional of Local Development in Klaksvik), Jogvan Mørkøre (University of Faroe Islands, Torshavn) and Suni a Dalbø, as well as notes by Professor Richard Apostle (Dalhousie University), have been important sources.


The Faroe Islands, which has been a self-governed (home ruled) area within the Danish Realm since 1948, experienced a severe crisis from 1992. The important fishery sector collapsed (fish makes up approx. 90% of exports), the major Faroese banks went bankrupt and foreign debts were very high. Most of the many fish processing plants were closed and the Faroese economy was put under Danish administration, resulting in the concentration of most fish processing plants in one United Seafood firm. During these years, the population of the Faroe Islands declined from 48,000 to 42,000 (approx.) due to emigration.

The settlement structure of the Faroe Islands is rather decentralised with many villages and municipalities, while around 18,000 lives in the capital of Torshavn. The second largest town (or the biggest village) is the municipality of Klaksvik to the north with 4,500 inhabitants. Another municipality dependent on the fisheries is Vagur to the south with 1,400 inhabitants (1998). These two municipalities are cases in the Circumpolar Coping Processes project (CCPP) in which research is carried out with support from the local authorities. But the coping strategies of the fishing industry, of local authorities and of the local people to overcome the crisis has been very different in these two localities. In each case, an understanding of the historical background is important.


During the 1970's successful skippers from herring fisheries accumulated capital and invested it in a new fileting plant. This plant became a part of the Faroese national strategy of subsidising the fishery sector. During the crisis in 1992-1996, the plant "Polarfrost," was taken over by United Seafood and subsequently closed down in 1993/1994 as a part of the national restructuring policy supervised by Danish authorities. Meanwhile the trawlers that had supplied the plant with fish, operating as part of a local vertically integrated fishing industry, became independent private firms. The closure of "Polarfrost" meant an overnight loss of 450 out of 800 jobs in the village, as seamen and shipyard workers were also affected. Some people left the place, but today the total workforce has risen to 700, due to new jobs that have been created in 6 smaller new salt fish plants, where fishermen can land their fish. "Polarfrost," once one of the most modern fish processing plants in Europe is still idle, appearing as an industrial "white elephant." Large-scale fishing industries, especially when controlled from outside, could not work in Vagur. Local entrepreneurship based on knowledge and relations to specific markets for salt fish on the European continent has worked so far.


Klaksvik is the major Faroese fishery locality - always competing with the capital, Torshavn. The fishing industry was dominated by one entrepreneurial family - Kjølbro - from 1913 to the 1960's. Klaksvik is well known for its strong networks including certain families, a specific religious congregation, local saving bank and a dominant political party (conservative and in favour of more independence from Denmark). During the 1992-1996 crisis, the major fish processing plant in Klaksvik managed to stay independent and outside of United Seafood and its restructuring plans under Danish control. Already in May 1993, the fish plant restructuring had been implemented with extended local ownership and capital, including the local saving bank, the local trade union, two local men managing the new firm, as well as 598 local individual share owners (the last group controlling 17% of the total capital stock). An important condition for the successful reconstruction of this large fish plant has been a focused strategy on specialised products and building relations with customers and sales organisations other than United Seafood. In 1997 products from the plant were sold to Marks and Spencer (UK), through Samband of Iceland (Icelandic - but only in US), Coldwater (competing Icelandic in UK) and to Unilever (semi-products to Germany). This is a case of local entrepreneurs building on very strong local networks of capital and trust managing to extend their networks to the outside world and building alliances with a diversity of customers. This has been accomplished without jeopardising the space for local action. The crucial factor, that made the large-scale fish industry survive in Klaksvik, was the persistent local control of resources: natural resources through a strong fishing fleet, financial capital through the local saving bank (which contrary to the national-level banks was not bankrupt) and social capital through networks of families, religion and politics.


In spite of the differences with respect to industrial strategy in the two cases, one crucial factor for both has been to have a multifaceted local control of resources (natural, financial and social capital). Another crucial factor is the development of international networks and contacts for marketing and sales on markets. Local control is building on both reciprocal relations of kinship and friendship and on associated relations with credit systems, congregations, political parties and local authorities. International relations are both reciprocal relations with friends and relatives abroad and more pure market relations. In both cases, the coping strategy has been building on the capacity to combine the local and international relations.


See: www.unesco.org/most - including papers and information about the first book "Coping Strategies in the North." The second book "The Reflexive North" is now under preparation. A pilot project in a joint venture between MOST and CSI is currently comparing coping strategies in Russian, Icelandic and Faroese localities. The pilot project is headed by Jogvan Mørkøre of the University of the Faroe Islands.


| Return to Index | Read Prev Msg | Read Next Msg |