Time in Romania seems to fold with the landscape. Where the hills of Transylvania rise from the Hungarian plains, life carries on as it has for centuries; farmers cultivate their small plots of land by hand while pigs, chickens and children roam unpaved village streets.
However, where the land drops and the horizon opens up, history closes in and the reforms of the past 75 years, first under communism and then capitalism, become evident.
Around villages sealed off by concrete blocks built under Ceausescu, the land stretches out in huge fields carrying single crops, occasionally punctuated by the slow crawl of a €500,000 combine harvester. With uncapped EU subsidies rewarding growth and productivity over all else, these farms are growing exponentially, swallowing all in their way. This, it seems, is the future of Romanian agriculture. Yet, where this model of farming might have worked in other countries, Romania, like many of its Balkan neighbours, is a different story.
Despite the best efforts of Ceausescu to throw them off the land and the draw of new markets and employment opportunities since, around 30% of Romania's 19 million population continues to live off their subsistence and semi-subsistence farms. However, both Romanian government and policy makers in Brussels refuse to acknowledge that these are the people who prop up the Romanian economy, keep the culture alive and the environment diverse.
Instead, officials are systematically undermining the infrastructure that the country relies on. By applying the widely condemned "one size fits all' policy central to the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the vast majority of Romania's farmers are being cast to the sidelines. At present 51% of the €6bn yearly subsidies coming into Romania go to just 0.9% of farms, while a total of 70% of Romanian farms are considered ineligible for subsidies of any kind.
The networks of trade that peasant farmers have traditionally relied on are being eroded on both ends. With the seed market largely monopolised by multinationals who drive the price up for seeds that won't reproduce and must be bought anew each year, farmers are often forced into spending unnecessarily. At the other end, local markets are dying under competition from foreign superstores, selling food at low prices that are only made affordable by subsidies and technology that the peasant farmers don't have.
Today, an annual agribusiness conference is being held in Bucharest. It is the first such meeting under the new minister of agriculture, Daniel Consantin, the third person to hold the position this year. Smallholder farmers tentatively placed their hopes on Constantin, as he marks a break from the previous ministers, Valeriu Tabără and Stelian Fuia, both of whom had previously worked for controversial Biotech giant, Monsanto, and in favour both of further GMO cultivation and intensive farming.
However, the conference, sponsored by Monsanto, Pioneer and DuPont, and attended by some of the country's largest landowners, promises to continue in the old vein, leaving power in the hands of private investors. Even the secretary of state for agriculture, Achim Irimescu, was unable to deny that the sponsors and attendants had political motives for funding the event, saying "usually (these companies) have an interest in sponsoring these events for some kind of lobby purposes".
If the conference turns out as expected, it will be a demoralising sign for farmers and environmental NGOs who have been fighting for changes in the ministry of agriculture in the lead up to the CAP reforms in 2013. In order to both support its citizens and compete internationally on the food market, Romania needs to start to view its poor farmers as the building blocks on which it can create its future, rather than a persistent problem that needs to be phased out. Small farms are able to produce as much or more food as their large competitors, yet they are being killed off under the false promise of increasing yields and economic development. Until Romania focuses funds towards rural development and sustainable agriculture, it threatens its own culture, environment and the largest part of its population.SOURCE: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/10/romania-smallhold-farmers