The Drought Pushed the Farmers to Protests, Asking the Authorities to Support the Agriculture Sector

The Drought Pushed the Farmers to Protests, Asking the Authorities to Support the Agriculture Sector
14 August 2020 | 13:21

On August 11, early in the morning, over 100 tractors lined, one by one, on the Hîncești-Leușeni route, the main route that connects Moldova to the European Union (EU). The tractors formed a column of over one kilometer. According to farmers, they have brought agricultural machinery on national roads to protest after the Government ignored their demands. 

Farmers have asked for immediate support in order to cope with the crisis caused by the drought. They decided to protest by blocking some roads for a few minutes because the authorities were slow in taking actions. Similar farmers’ protests took place on August 12 and August 13 in 11 districts of the country, from the center and south of Moldova.

On August 11, the protest began in the shade of chestnut trees on the Hîncești-Leușeni route that unites Moldova with the EU, where about 100 people gathered. Members of the group of farmers who initiated the protest spoke in turn about the main demands to the authorities, urging people to protest peacefully.

“We do not want to block the road. We just want to be heard. Maybe the authorities will come up with some information and convene the Parliament meeting. They may accept the declaration of the state of emergency in agriculture, and find the money. 

Last night some politicians already said that they will talk to the Monetary Fund… Why last night and not two months ago? They have been aware of the problem for a long time. Does it mean that they started to think about it only now when we mobilized to protest? If we didn’t start the protest, they wouldn’t have stirred a finger,” Iurie Păsat, the mayor of Bălceana village (the center of Moldova), who is also the founder of a peasants’ association, told the participants in the protest. 

The police, present in large numbers at the protest in Lăpușna, warned the farmers that they will be fined if they block the road. 

“If they fine us, we will go out with all the tractors. Let them fine us all,” was the reply of a farmer.

“They warned us. We’ll be fined if we block the roads. We are in constant contact with all colleagues from the 11 districts and we said that even if there will be blockages, they will not be massive, but 10-15 minutes each. In case of an emergency, we will certainly clear the way. That is our intention,” said Mihai Gribincea, a farmer from Boghiceni village, Hâncești district.

Reaching the Brink of Bankruptcy

“We have reached an economic collapse due to the excessive drought of 2020. We haven’t had such a severe drought in the last 70-80 years. We are here in the cornfield of a colleague of ours. This is what practically all the cornfields in Hîncești district look like,” Mihai Gribincea told us, showing us the corn plants already dry and without cobs.

“We had a meeting of agricultural producers in Hîncești district and wețve asked the Ministry of Agriculture, the Government of Moldova, the Parliament and other competent bodies to revive the situation created today in the agricultural sector. We submitted the application and waited for 10 days but we have not received any answer so far. 

At the initiative of a group of farmers from 11 districts of the country, we agreed to go out in a massive protest on August 11 to make ourselves heard and hoping that the state would take measures to support the farmers. 

The year 2020 has brought the agricultural sector to an economic collapse. The investments, taken from banks in the form of loans, all went awry. Today, we do not have a kilogram of corn in the fields. In addition, it is difficult to process these lands. To clear the fields and prepare them for the next year, we need 40-50 liters of diesel per hectare. We have reached the brink of bankruptcy because everyone is indebted to the banks or to the input suppliers (fertilizers, pesticides and seeds, ed. note). The banks also face certain problems. Now we are in a state of alert. We do not know if and how debt rescheduling will be possible, how we will agree with the suppliers. This is the most difficult at the moment,” explains the agricultural producer from Boghiceni.

 There is no Way Out of the Situation

Mihai Gribincea says that the agricultural leaders, the owners of the lands they lease, many of them elderly people, will suffer the effects of the drought. 

“Every year, the tenants from the locality, where I work, received around 450 tons of cereals, 60 tons of sunflower in the form of oil or other products. This year, however, we harvested only about 200 tons of wheat from the expected 1,200 tons. We still do not know how to pay the rent to landowners, not to mention grain sales to buy diesel or make other investments. 

The crisis of 2020 will have economic effects over the next two-three years. For example, in 2007, when we had an excessive drought and harvested only 500-700 kg of wheat per hectare, there was a better situation with the corn and sunflower. Nevertheless, we still needed two-three years to get back to normal. Now we see no way out. If we are not heard by the authorities, our agriculture will get into heavy debts and will not be able to recover in the next three-four years.”

The farmer claims that, within the current legislative framework, even concluding insurance contracts would not help them get through the dry years more easily because insurance companies are not willing to take out insurance in this area. 

“Insurance companies do not assume liability insurance for excessive drought, hail, etc. Given this year’s conditions, if all Moldovan farmers had crop insurance against the calamity, I am sure that insurance companies could not reimburse such huge sums of money. Within our enterprise, which manages 850 hectares, we have losses of around half a million euros (10 million lei). You do realize that insurance companies are not able to cover it.”

The Minister Could Not Convince the Farmers to Give Up the Protest

While almost all the farmers in the district were at the Lăpușna protest, Ion Perju, the Minister of Agriculture, Regional Development and Environment, went to the district center Hîncești, where he met with only a few farmers and the district leadership. At around 12 o’clock, the minister arrived at Lăpușna to talk to the protesting agricultural producers. Perju listed the actions taken by the Government, announcing that €15.23 million (300 million lei) would be allocated to the agricultural sector to mitigate the effects of the drought. The Minister declared that the state would grant around 50 euros (1,000 lei) compensation for one hectare sown with wheat, affected in the proportion of more than 60 percent; around 51 euros (1,020 lei) will be the compensation for one hectare of barley and over 70 euros (1,400 lei) – for one hectare of rapeseed. Farmers often interrupted the minister as they expressed their disagreement with Perju’s statements.

As the Minister’s promises did not convince the farmers, the latter resorted to blocking the Hîncești-Leușeni route, as they had previously established, together with farmers from other districts. At 13:20, two tractors blocked the road both from Leușeni and from Hîncești directions. The police intervened immediately, demanding to clear the road. 

“We’ll call the villagers, to support us,” shouted one of the tractor drivers who blocked the road to the police. 

“In case of non-subordination, you’ll bear both criminal and misdemeanor liability,” replied the police officer, who insisted that the road be cleared.

After about 15 minutes, the protesters took aside the tractors and the road traffic was resumed in both directions. Several police officers filmed the drivers, who blocked the road, which, as the latter says, would be used as a means of intimidation. 

Alexandru Cuciuc, the head of the Hîncești Police Inspectorate, announced the protesters that fines will be applied. 

ZdG asked Cuciuc what laws the farmers violated and what punishment they risk. Initially, he hesitated to talk to us, then he said that those who blocked the road will be fined based on Article 225 of the Contravention Code of  Moldova (intentional blocking of traffic lanes or transport arteries), which provides fines between 75 and 220 euros (1,500 and 4,500 lei).

Towards the end of August 11, after speaking with farmers in Hîncești, Minister Perju wrote on Facebook that “we are constantly discussing all support opportunities at the Government. Analyzing and negotiating, we will be able to identify optimal solutions. Blocking the route does not bring money to the budget and does not solve problems. I urge you to be open in communication and cooperation.”

Together with experienced farmers, there were many young farmers at the Lăpușna protest. They either started a business from scratch or tried to carry on their family business. ZdG discussed with four of them about the impact of 2020 on the agricultural sector, as well as how the year affected them, in particular, as young people trying to farm in their native villages.

Denis Pleșca, 33 Years Old, Bălceana Village, Hîncești District, the Center of Moldova 

“I got back from abroad and invested in agriculture, arable land, and vineyards. This year, we reached the zero point, as many farmers throughout the country. That is why the protest was organized and we joined. We hope that the Government will hear us and support us, at least to some extent, because we register 100 percent losses. An appeal was written to the Minister, but it stayed there for many days and we were not given any answer. That is why the protest started. 

We will stay here until we have an answer, but not verbally. They must convene a meeting and offer a practical solution. I have already lost everything. We all have nothing to lose. We can stay here for a month, if necessary, but we want to be heard. It is a disappointment because you get back to your home country, you start working and you arrive at nothing; you have to think about how to survive. Maybe someone could describe it differently, but I say it’s something out of the ordinary. I have returned to my native country and neither the state nor the insurance companies can do anything to help. I personally tried to ensure my land, but they said that there is no insurance for corn or sunflower.”

Andrei Nederiță, 31 Years Old, Bujor Village, Hîncești District, the Center of Moldova

“In my case, agriculture is a family business. I worked in the banking sector for seven years. I graduated from the Agricultural University, the Faculty of Agronomy. Two years ago, I decided to try to do something in my native village, to return with my family to my hometown and to be with my parents, to continue the business we have in agriculture. The field of agriculture is very different and very difficult. 

At first, I thought it would be easy. In reality, you have to put a lot of effort into it. You wake up at five in the morning, you work until night and after a year of effort, you wait for the autumn to reap the fruits and, respectively, to return your invested money, but this year is a total disappointment. Is it worth to do agriculture any longer? 

The only hope for us at this moment would be the support from the state because I, as a young farmer, lost everything this year. I did not recover the money I invested, not to mention the profit. This year is a difficult one. We will hardly be able to lay the groundwork for the next year. We hope that next year the situation will be much better. 

Give us an impetus to continue to work and to get the pleasure of it. Although we now face financial difficulties as a company, we try our best to find financial sources and to honor our obligations to employees. I understand that this is their only source of income. Paying the rent is also a problem because all the land is leased. We pay the rent depending on the harvest. This year I practically did not gather anything from the wheat crop. 

We gathered 300-400 kg, in the best fields – up to 900 kg, but the investments are very large. The corn crop is fully compromised. We’ll see what we can harvest of the sunflower crop. The people in the village ask if we will give them some grain as payment for the rent. They are also looking for solutions. They even started to slaughter the animals because they are aware that they will not have enough food to feed them.”

Denis Barbărasă, 34 Years Old, Boghiceni Village, Hîncești District, the Center of Moldova

“I have worked in agriculture for five years, with foreign investments. Our family has been abroad for over 30 years, if we calculate three family members each for ten years, my brother, my father, and I. This year, we’re greatly disappointed. It is not true that we have reached the zero point. We went below it. To go out in a year like this to zero means a small victory. 

In Europe, many say that when you open a business, if you go to zero in the first and second year, it already means a win, it is not a loss, but we register losses. We are in a situation when we do not know how to continue the activity. There is no money for diesel. Everyone telephones us, people who gave us credit, those with fertilizers, with seeds. They still have loans from banks, just like us and they have to go ahead. We are completely blocked. 

I liked the way farmers would say in Romania: in order to compensate a year like this, you need at least three-four good years. Good means a year with a profit. We talked to the minister, I think for about three hours. We debated the same question dozens and dozens of times and nothing was decided. 

I don’t think we will stop here, we will protest until a solution appears to the questions we have pointed out in our appeal. We are waiting for tomorrow (August 12, ed. note) hoping that a meeting of Parliament will be convened and we are waiting for the answer. Until tomorrow, I think it will be a peaceful protest. I cannot tell what will happen tomorrow, because the people are already blowing up. We can’t stand it anymore. We hoped, until the last moment, before the protest started, that positive decisions would be made for us, all farmers, and we would not have to go to protest. We informed about the situation two months ago, we documented everything in the mayor’s office… no-decision. 

Last year, there was hail, and heavy rains, landslides of tens of hectares. We made up documents, there were lots of trips and additional expenses, convened commissions at the mayor’s office, we submitted documents further, to higher authorities …With all that, I didn’t receive any compensation. I haven’t received any subsidy per hectare, not a single coin for five years, since I have been in agriculture.”

ZdG: How would the 1,000 lei per hectare, promised by the minister, help you? Will you be able to prepare the fields for a new agricultural year?

“Not even 30 percent. On some fields, the corn is below one meter high, and there is some expense there. On other fields, the corn is over two meters, but without cobs. Just to take it down, to crush it, you need 45-50 liters of diesel per hectare.”

ZdG: Is the land you cultivate private property or do you rent it from the villagers? How are the villagers affected by this year’s drought, if you lease the land?

“We lease 98 percent of the land. People suffer just as we do. Many who understand the situation feel sorry for us. They are with us, but there are people who already have nothing to feed their poultry with and come and ask from us. They need to keep some poultry around the house to feed the children. We will not be able to give them anything if we do not have any support. This is the most painful because even if we want to, we can’t. We harvested 420 kg of wheat per hectare, what can we do? The largest, let’s say we have 900 kg per hectare, but there are fields that we could not even harvest. In other years, the average was around five tons of wheat per hectare.”

Dumitru Rotaru, 25 Years Old, Leușeni Village, Hîncești District, the Center of Moldova

“I come from a farmers’ family and this year, we are in total bankruptcy because of the drought. We hope to get support from the authorities. We don’t want much. We need help with the bank loans and loans from seed and fertilizer companies, and to pay our employees because if we don’t pay them, they will look for work in another place and the next year we will not have anyone to employ. 

We have to pay the people from whom we rented land. If there is no support from the authorities, I think a few of the protesters present here would resist on their own. A few, about five or six, who are stronger, I think they would resist, but the rest will go bankrupt and I think they will go abroad. I am young and I want to stay in my country and make a future, I wouldn’t like to go to another country. I have friends abroad and they also want to return home, but if they don’t see the future … 

I wish everyone could return home, and build a future near their parents and friends. I don’t think that the 1,000 lei (promised by the authorities, ed. note) would be enough. It depends on what loans one has, that’s the problem. But 50 euros (1,000 lei) is not even enough to prepare the land for the next year. I don’t see the point, they’d better help with the banks. We tried to irrigate the land. We irrigated the corn with a large amount of water. We hoped that it would help to form the corn cob so that we could harvest at least something. No, the water didn’t help either. There is no humidity at all in the soil and air. Either irrigated or unirrigated corn, it is all the same.”

AUTHOR MAIL

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