Improving social sustainability of coordinated wild berry picking – a presentation in Arctic Frontiers conference

Senior Scientist Rainer Peltola gave a presentation “Improving social sustainability of coordinated wild berry picking” by himself, Seija Tuulentie and Jaana Sorvali at the Arctic Frontiers conference on 4.2.2021 by a video presentation. As the video cannot be shared on our website for technical reasons, Rainer writes below about the contents of the presentation. The presentation video is available at the Arctic Frontiers 2021 website for the conference participants. 


Wild – or forest – berries are ubiquitous products of boreal forests. Although wild berries are considered to have low value compared to timber, especially rural inhabitants of Finland have gotten side incomes by picking berries. Wild berries – with other Non-Timber Forest Products – have also had an important contribution to local food security. However, nowadays major part of berries picked by Finns is for household use or direct selling from picker to consumer. This has led to availability challenges among SMEs channeling berries from pickers to wholesale markets. Currently Finnish wild berry SMEs are dependent on pickers who come to Finland for berry picking season. The pickers do not have a formal employment relationship but are considered to be independent actors who simply sell the picked berries to companies.

Berry picking is a part of everyman´s right, which gives – among other things – right to pick berries to all people residing in Finland, regardless of land ownership and picker´s nationality. Everyman´s right is customary law, giving room to local practices also for berry picking. These practices usually emphasize small-scale picking, in which local residents have priority position. When the practices met coordinated and intensive berry picking done by foreigners, a conflict was imminent.

The starting point for conflict conciliation was to get a more detailed picture of opinions about foreign laborers involved in berry picking and to determine the main controversial practices of the pickers. Not surprisingly, condemning attitudes increased when distance to picker´s origin increased and the purpose of picking was commercial and coordinated. However in general, organized berry picking by foreign laborers is accepted if some basic guidelines connected to local practices are respected.

In order to respond to the controversies, the Finnish Ministry of Employment and Economy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and berry SMEs have concluded common guidelines for coordinated berry picking. These guidelines obligate berry SMEs, for example, to guarantee a minimum income to berry pickers and determine acceptable conditions in the accommodation facilities of the pickers. The guidelines also obligate the SMEs to train pickers so that they know the principles of everyman´s rights and how to act in proximity of settlements, in order to avoid conflicts between local communities and berry pickers. When a berry SME signs the letter of intent, it also commits to report its actions related to the guidelines, possible violations complicate the invitation of pickers by the company on next year. In addition to these guidelines, at least one berry company applies the ISO 26000 standard, which provides guidance for social responsibility.

Highlights of the research and presentation are:

  • Intensification of the use of natural resources creates conflicts between local communities and SMEs also when the resources are considered to have low monetary value such as wild berries
  • Local communities are ready to accept also intensive use of nature, if the local practices are respected
  • Majority of berry SMEs consider sustainable actions benefiting their businesses. However, regulations – including possibility of sanctions –are necessary. In case of berry picking, regulations are generally accepted by SMEs.

Rainer Peltola

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