For the promotion of agricultural cooperatives in Romania
By Hiroshi Terunuma
Manager of the Development Department, IDACA
Under a program of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), I work in the Republic of Romania for a two-year assignment from July 17, 2001, as a "long-term expert" to help promote the development of agricultural cooperatives there. I am with the National Agency for Agricultural Consultancy (NACC), an arm of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
Romania's privatization policy that began in 1989 has disbanded agricultural production cooperatives and returned the farms which had been state-owned to their original owners. This reform has created four million independent farm households.
Previously the farmers had surrendered their farms to the state and worked for, and were paid wages by, the agricultural production cooperative. As such, the Romanian cooperatives in those days had an organizational mechanism and form of activity not conforming to the cooperative principles of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA).
Production cooperatives used to have farm supplies delivered from state-run fertilizer plants, while they shipped their products to state-operated silos and plants. Most Romanian farmers are averse to agricultural cooperative movement, which they identify with socialism, and fear that they might have to give up their farms again if they joined cooperatives.
In these circumstances, it has become increasingly difficult for individual farmers to stay financially sound by themselves. For example, a farm household alone can't afford machines needed to plant and harvest wheat, corn and sunflowers. So, these individual farmers opt either to lease their farms to a "commercial society," which tends the farms using machines, or to continue to work on their own farms helped by horses.
About 20 percent of the total farmland has been leased out and horses in the republic have increased from 670,000 head in 1989 to 900,000 to date. It is reported that fertilizer consumption has decreased to a quarter of the 1989 level as fertilizer prices soared.
The republic has an arable area totaling 9.5 million hectares, with an average farm household having 2.3 hectares of land to till and grow crops on. Rural communities account for 40 percent of the national total population and the farming population represents 37 percent of the total workforce of the country. Income and other conditions of individual farm households have improved little over the past 11 years.
Finally, a proposal has been made to create democratic agricultural cooperatives in order to address the problems. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has drafted a bill for the establishment of agricultural cooperatives as it plans to start organizing agricultural cooperatives in earnest upon parliamentary approval of the bill.
The NAAC is set to mobilize about 1,000 personnel and a network of training institutes under its wing in 42 counties nationwide in projects to educate farmers and develop democratic agricultural cooperatives conforming to the ICA principles.
A campaign for the reform is already under way, though slowly. The NAAC is starting to prepare uniform educational pamphlets for nationwide distribution, mount publicity through radio, TV and the press, and train local personnel who will be in charge of organizing cooperatives.
I have embarked on educational activities myself through interviews with the media, including the press, radio and TV. I speak at seminars at colleges and research institutes, visit local agricultural consulting offices and meet with various farming groups, and help propagate the concept of new agricultural cooperatives by working to eliminate farmers' misunderstanding that the new cooperatives are also indoctrinated with socialism. I am racking my brains every day over how to proceed in my efforts about cooperatives development. I will try to write a little better in reporting my activities in the next issue of IDACA News. I look forward to the support of ex-IDACA participants and IDACA newsletter readers. Hiroshiterunuma@aol.com is my e-mail address. Your comments will be highly appreciated.