The Situation of Romanian Agriculture

The Situation of Romanian Agriculture

Oct 22, 2020
Situaţia Agriculturii în România
Agriculture

Introduction

A little note at the beginning: Since the share of plant production within the agricultural production value in Romania is as high as almost 75%, we set the focus of our article on arable farming and the subject of animal husbandry is only touched peripherally.

The most recent change in Romanian agriculture visible to the public took place in 1990: after more than 30 years of collectivist management by state cooperatives (CAP = Cooperativă Agricolă de Producție) during the communist aera, agricultural land was returned to the original owners or their descendants. Unfortunately, no land consolidation had been carried out in the course of this return of land. Instead of rounding off the areas, meaning to parcel out in a way it can be farmed more efficiently, some of those lands were divided into tiny areas of just a few dozen acres, which were then allocated in completely different lots. The reason being undoubtedly the lack of time on one side and the will to compensate for injustices regarding the difference in soil quality within a certain area on the other side.

The result being a patchwork of small parcels, at first almost entirely managed by private individuals, mainly in the form of self-sufficient agriculture.

A 2008 study revealed that 6,8 of the 10 million hectares of arable land in Romania, had been left unexploited.
This, among other things, was due to the fact that the existing (often already aged) inventory of tractors, machines, devices and tools had been divided among the population after the revolution during the deconstruction of the state-owned companies. Therefore hardly any of the small farms had access to a full set of equipment. Furthermore private individuals usually did not own suitable buildings for workshops or warehouses, since all these kinds of buildings had been part of the respective CAPs, and grain silos with huge capacities were strategically located along railway lines, small farms had zero chance to use those.
Crops were stored in makeshift buildings and the majority of the harvest was used to feed farm animals.

Combined with a massive lack of financial resources and the inefficient exploitation of the fragmented parcels, these circumstances led to lying fallow of arable land.
However, this was not a fundamental problem. Instead of expensive farming, the fallow land was used as pastures for animals, mostly sheep and goats.

Before joining the EU in 2007, the structure of Romania's agriculture had been already moving away from self-subsistence small farmers to large-scale farms. Before that, it had been mostly local farmers and investors who set up large arable farms with several hundred or even thousand hectares. Starting in 2007, this development accelerated considerably, especially due to the now very uncomplicated option for European citizens, both private persons as well as legal entities, to lease and buy land in Romania, incented by EU subsidies.

But despite this ongoing change, there were still 3,1 million small farms with a surface of less than 5 hectares registered in Romania in 2016, according to Eurostat.
A significant part of those being below the minimal size required for applications for EU-funding.
In 2016 the average farm size was 3,7 hectares, compared to the overall EU average of 16,7 hectares.

The age structure within Romanian agriculture is also noteworthy: 1,5 million farmers belonged to the age group of 64+, 750.000 farmers are between the ages of 55 and 64 and 650.000 belong to the group of people between 45 and 54 years, while the number of young farmers up to the age of 44 is counting just 500.000 people.

Due to the above circumstances, no wonder the Romanian farm managers’ focus regarding the development of their agriculture had been initially set to the expansion of operational equipment and the construction of specific buildings for the last 30 years, while other topics such as environmental protection, prevention of erosion, measures against the effects of climate change and species protection used to play a rather subordinate role.

However, these issues can no longer be ignored and require urgent action, as we will explain in our next post.

Challenges

Many of the problems with which Romanian agriculture has to struggle also put other (European) countries into a difficult situation.

Climate Crisis

The most important challenges are the ever faster intensifying effects of the climate crisis, a major part of which was caused by agriculture.

For example, the average annual precipitation to date in many arable areas in southern Romania is already quite low at 4-500 l / m² and farming in this region has been characterized by regular dry periods all along.
As a result of the advancement of climate change in the last few decades, large parts of the areas in which cultivation of arable land is practiced are affected by desertification or even desertification and the fertility of the soil threatens to decline considerably in the long term. This threat was registered in Romania for the first time 50 years ago, whereupon the communist leadership successfully introduced countermeasures such as the expansion of protective hedges and extensive irrigation systems.
Large parts of the protective hedges were cut down after 1990, pumps of the irrigation stations were scrapped and most of the existing canals crumbled and overgrown.

But even if it should rain, many farmers will expect the precipitation in the future with mixed feelings: the analyzes of the Meteorological Institute of Romania (ANM) indicate that the precipitation behavior has already fundamentally changed and that the resulting effects will further intensify. Long periods of drought are interrupted by extreme precipitation, which can bring rainfall up to 100 liters per square meter within a short period of time, locally even up to 200 liters. Precipitation of this kind does more harm than good, because the soil simply cannot absorb such amounts of water in a short time. The majority therefore flows off the surface, washing away fertile topsoil and in the worst case can directly damage the cultivation of entire areas by flushing out young crops. The risk of other extreme events such as hail and storms will also continue to increase and thus pose even more threats to agriculture.

“For the near future (2021-2050), the results of the analyzed climate models show, in the most pessimistic scenario for Romania, an average increase in monthly temperature in the warmest month of the year of almost 4 ° C and an average decrease in monthly rainfall of up to 18 % in summer, "said an ANM climate expert in an interview in February 2020.
In its current form, Romanian agriculture is in no way prepared for the coming weather phenomena, which is why there is an urgent need for action.

Biodiversity

Another notable problem in Romania, which was caused by the development towards the agricultural industry, is the increased use of pesticides with all its negative effects on the biodiversity of plants, insects and all subsequent creatures in the food chain.

While in the years after the revolution fauna and flora were able to recover and even expand on the fallow land, in 2020, due to the efficient use of herbicides, one can hardly find any wild plants and flowers in any field. Arable land is now being worked right up to the adjacent field lanes and roads, so that hardly any flower strips remain. In Romania, especially on main roads, there is an increasing trend towards mowing or mulching these strips. As a result, the wild plants that are so important for insects are rapidly disappearing throughout the countryside.

Important breeding areas and habitats for birds and small game were lost because, as already mentioned, large parts of the hedges laid out in the 1930s and extended by the communist leadership along arable land to protect against soil erosion were almost completely destroyed after the revolution. Due to a lack of supply sources and poverty, the rural population had to extract firewood from it or the hedges were removed in order to create more usable space. As a result, there are now hardly any retreats for animals in the open landscape and extensive forest areas are usually several kilometers apart.
In addition to the effects of the climate crisis, the loss of biodiversity represents another significant risk that affects not only Romania, but all of humanity.

Structure of the farms and subsidies

As mentioned in the first part, a considerable proportion of the rural, mostly elderly population still lives to a large extent from their own products.

The proportion of young farmers is very low and represents a fundamental problem. The attractiveness for young people to be trained or to study in the field of agriculture is quite low, as it is as well the case in other traditional handicrafts. This is probably due to the fact that the job as a farmer demands a lot of commitment and is still very physically demanding. The decisive factor, however, is that young people hardly have a chance to actually develop the small farm of their parents or grandparents in such a way that a family can generate sufficient financial income from it.
While in the period after 1990 agriculture actually represented a basis for survival for many, young people today strive to no longer just be able to survive. Other sectors in Romania offer significantly more attractive opportunities, with wages that are still low, but from which you and your family can afford a decent life.

There are numerous funding programs that aim to specifically support young farmers, but one of the biggest problems since the EU funding programs came into existence is the low rate of utilization of the funds by small and medium-sized farms. Often it is the large companies that can afford to commission one or more employees with the implementation of such funding programs and can also raise the necessary financial contribution of usually 50% of the funding amount.
A farmers family, in which all members are “caught” in the handling of daily work, in which there may be poor access to the Internet, which lives far away from offices and authorities, it is very difficult to even make a successful application for subsidies.
And in order to really bring forward a company, several applications are required until the entire demand for machines, buildings and devices is covered.
Since Romanian politics has not managed in recent years to bring a noteworthy amount of self-catering farms to a higher level in technical and economic terms, the proportion of successful small and medium-sized farms in Romania will hardly increase significantly in the near future.

Sales markets

Another problem that arises from the high number of small farms is the lack of sales markets for the small farmers.

It seems to be paradoxical: in the supermarkets of Romanian or well-known European retail chains you will find mainly fruit and vegetables, but also dairy products that have been grown or produced in other (EU) countries. At the same time, many of the small farmers complain about a lack of sales opportunities.

However, the explanation is relatively simple: supermarkets work on the (questionable) principle of being able to offer a complete variety of all products at any time of the year. And of course, the products in each store in a chain should be as similar as possible. That is why they need suppliers who can deliver the relevant goods in sufficient quantities and of consistent quality.
A small-scale farmer who usually only sells his production surplus is basically out of the question.
But even medium-sized companies may have difficulties selling their products directly to supermarkets, as they can usually only offer a limited variety, while the buyers of a supermarket chain prefer to have as few suppliers as possible who can offer them a wide range of products.

For those small farmers who sell their surpluses on the markets, the situation will become increasingly difficult in the future. The number of markets in cities and in the country will continue to decrease with the expansion of supermarkets. Convenience will prevail, as most people unfortunately prefer to stock up on everything in a single shop instead of taking the detour to the market for fruits and vegetables from local farmers.

Conclusion

The problems in Romanian agriculture are manifold. From global to structural problems: Even if agriculture in Romania will become similar to that of other EU countries in many areas, taking in consideration the ongoing rural exodus (see also our article about it) everything must be done in to make living on the countryside attractive again for young people, to fit agriculture against the challenges of the climate crisis and to immediately eliminate the still existing, self-endangering influences of agriculture.

Volt's point of view

As we have seen in the previous parts, Romania's agriculture is facing major challenges, including problems directly threatening this economic sector

But it is also about agriculture living up to its social responsibility on how to treat  natural resources such as soil, fauna and flora, (ground) water, and nutrients.

Volt offers a variety of solutions, an excerpt of which we would like to present to you.

Climate Crisis

Green barriers and renatuation

In order to counter the effects of the climate crisis, immediate measures must be taken in Romania to restore and, even more, to extend protective hedges along the agricultural areas.

In addition, the renaturation of drained wetlands and the reforestation of significant areas can delay the progressive desertification and in best case stop it.

Watering system

Wherever possible, efficient irrigation systems must be built or expanded. In addition to the classic methods of drawing surface water and from wells, this also includes collecting and storing rainwater.

Collecting rainwater has two advantages:

  • As heavy rains would usually flow off along the surface and water only seeping away in the tiniest amounts, collecting the water would make it usable.  
  • The extraction of water from watercourses or the usage of groundwater can quickly lead to negative effects, especially if this kind of consumption is unregulated and becomes too high. This is why it should be reduced as far as possible and collecting rainwater can help to achieve this.

Adaptation of crops

Farmers need to be encouraged to change their crop rotations and grow crops which can better cope with changing conditions. Cultures such as flax or hemp for the production of fibers or camelina for the production of oil to be used as fuel substitute, just like millet, should become an integral part of agriculture.


Volt advocates the pragmatic weighing of the opportunities and risks of cisgenic plants based on scientific research (genetically modified plants, which, however, do NOT contain any alien genetic material), in order to increase the adaptation of plants to certain environmental conditions (drought), but also to reduce the usage of pesticides.

Farmers must be encouraged and, if necessary, obliged to increase the amount of humus within soil to reduce the risk of erosion, to store CO2 and to increase the capacity of water absorption into the soil.

Biodiversity

We demand massive support for automated regulation of weeds by robots, preferably by such robots which are able to fight wild plants mechanically, while making sure that a minimum number of wild plants of each species is left untouched.

We also promote plant protection products being already used in organic farming and which have fewer negative effects.

As already mentioned in point 1, we also demand the establishment of protective hedges, renaturation and afforestation, which can also counteract the decline of biodiversity.

Structure of farms and funding

The EU funding for agriculture must be linked much closer to the fulfillment of requirements for sustainable agriculture. Access to funds must become easier for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Promotion of young farmers

In order to counter the massive aging of the Romanian agricultural sector, young farmers must be given significantly more support. The existing program for the promotion of young farmers provides for a maximum funding amount of 50.000 euros. This needs to be increased significantly.

In order to counter the massive aging of the Romanian agricultural sector, young farmers must be given significantly more support. The existing program for the promotion of young farmers provides for a maximum funding amount of 50.000 euros. This needs to be increased significantly.

In order to counter the massive aging of the Romanian agricultural sector, young farmers must be given significantly more support. The existing program for the promotion of young farmers provides for a maximum funding amount of 50.000 euros. This needs to be increased significantly.

Sales markets

Since small farmers have no direct access to supermarkets for marketing purposes, small farms with good starting conditions must be strengthened in their growth.

Local marketing cooperatives and collection centers for fruit and vegetables must be promoted.

Lessons need to be introduced in school to explain the complex subject of agriculture and its impact on society as a whole. Schools must teach the responsible use of natural resources and their consumption.


Further demands


In addition to the solutions that Volt deems necessary for the problems addressed in the previous posts, we also developed additional measures in our basic political program.

Since this is a very comprehensive topic that also affects many other subject areas, we will come back to it repeatedly in future articles and delve deeper into the subject of agriculture in Romania, including further suggestions on how to tackle other problems.