Walnuts, plums, sea buckthorn, or cereals are just some of the organic products grown in Moldova that reach the shelves of stores in the European Union. Competition, the reduction in the profitability of traditionally grown products, and climatic conditions have motivated some of the Moldovan farmers to move from intensive and conventional farming to organic farming and to adopt a better system of crop growth.
Organic farming aims to produce healthy food, it is based on the use of organic fertilizers and compliance with the natural laws of a living organism, on the interaction between soil, plants, animals, insects and environmental factors.
Even if the organically cultivated lands represent a little over one percent of the surface of all agricultural lands in Moldova, 95% of the cultivated products are traded on the foreign market. There are higher export prices and farmers do not have the opportunity to process and pack them to reach the shelves of stores in Moldova.
In order to obtain subsidies for organic farming, which are higher than for conventional farming, farmers must be certified in Moldova. On top of that, in order to export organic products to the EU farmers must present international certification.
Changing the national legislation and connecting it to the European one is anticipated, yet the state should support farmers interested in organic farming to increase their number.
The members of the company Prograin Organic from Floresti district, northern Moldova, decided to apply the experience and knowledge they have in the field of conventional agriculture in the development of organic agriculture. The company specializes in the cultivation of cereals: wheat, corn, sunflower, rye, peas, soybeans, peas, lentils, but also beans.
Spartac Chilat, general manager of “Prograin Organic”, Floreşti district, northern Moldova
“This is an adequate agriculture, which requires compliance with the basic principles of agriculture: crop rotation, integration into circular agriculture through the livestock farm, and compliance with a head-to-tail certification process,” mentions Spartac Chilat, general manager of Prograin Organic.
The process of conditioning cereals within the company “Prograin Organic”
The company is one of the market leaders in Moldova and brings together about 50 farmers who grow organic products. As the company does not yet have the possibilities to process and package the products for the final consumers, they are cultivated only for export. Prograin Organic aims to package the products in the near future so that they reach the shelves of stores in Moldova.
In order to increase the quality of the exported products, the company peels the cereals, prepares organic seeds for sowing, and offers cleaning and conditioning services for the finished product at a purity of 99.9%, as required on international markets. Farmers use modern equipment to clean cereals of impurities. For the first time in 2015, the company exported agricultural products to the Netherlands, expanding today to France, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain and the UK.
Conversion – the transition from conventional to organic agriculture
Land must go through a period of conversion, i.e. the transition from conventional to organic farming, in order to consider an organic process of farming.
“The conversion period is nothing more than the transition period from conventional to organic farming. This is the period that farmers have at their disposal to adapt the company’s management to the rules of organic production,” told ZdG the Ministry of Agriculture, Regional Development and Environment (MADRM).
Igor Golban, founder of the “Biantti” brand
Usually, the conversion period for annual crops lasts two years, and for multiannual ones – three years. Farmers Alexei Micu and Igor Golban say that, in their case, the conversion process lasted four years, because the fields were gradually introduced in the ecological circuit.
Immediately after harvest, farmers precede sea buckthorn to thermal shock and frozen to retain all its properties.
In the conversion process, farmers encountered several problems: lack of information and specialists in the field of organic farming, internal difficulties in planning works or identifying the equipment for tillage. The equipment, moreover, must not be used in the cultivation of soils that are conventionally processed and must be used strictly in organic farming.
Moldovan consumers prefer low-cost products
“We faced a number of issues, especially related to the final buyer accepting the product quality. As a rule, organic production cannot be chemically treated and if you do not transport it properly it becomes contaminated and infected. Following that, the processing offered by the final foreign buyer swallows all the planned profit,” mentions Spartac Chilat.
Organic products have started to be more and more demanded on the territory of Moldova, even if they have a higher price. However, experts say that consumers prefer, in most cases, products that have low costs, without paying too much attention to quality.
Viorel Chivriga, expert at the independent research and advocacy think tank IDIS Viitorul
“It is, first of all, about the consumer’s culture. In fact, there is a huge gap between the European states and Moldova. In European countries, the chains of stores where organic products are sold are quite large and vast,” says Viorel Chivriga, an expert at the independent research and advocacy think tank IDIS Viitorul.
Organic products are in high demand in EU countries, with the European Community being the second largest consumer of organic products in the world. In 2017, the EU marketed ecological goods worth over 34 billion euros. This market is a promising one for Moldovan farmers. Firstly, in order to enter the EU market, farmers need to have sufficient quantities of goods for export, and secondly, they need ecological certification according to European standards.
What is ecological certification?
Organic certification guarantees consumers that the products they buy do not contain chemicals, are tasty and authentic foods that, at the same time, respect the natural life cycle of the systems, say the authorities. In order to obtain the organic certificate, farmers have to register with the competent authority, by submitting a record sheet, then contracting one of the certification bodies and passing a conversion period.
Organic walnut orchard, Olișcani village, Soldanesti district in northern Moldova
Double certification – the path to subsidies and the EU market
As Moldova’s legislation does not match with that of the EU, farmers are required to perform double certification. Farmers claim this takes additional time and higher expenses. Even if the verification procedures are similar, there are differences at the documentary level.
At the same time, the Moldovan certification allows farmers to benefit from subsidies for organic farming. The state grants subsidies increased by 20% to agricultural producers engaged in the cultivation of organic crops. Financial support is also provided during the conversion period, depending on the culture category. For field crops the amount varies between 40 and 50 euros per hectare, depending on the conversion year, for orchards and vineyards – between 70 and 120 euros.
The international certification entitles farmers to export the products under the organic tag. So far, 90 Moldovan producers have gone through the certification procedure and export their products with certification from international bodies.
Only 5% of organic products grown in Moldova end up on store shelves in the country
“For five years we have not been able to implement the new law on organic farming, which makes it difficult to recognize local products in Europe. Therefore, given the fact that we do not have an adequate legal framework, we are going to double certify the households,” mentions farmer Spartac Chilat.
However, in order to overcome this barrier, the Ministry of Agriculture claims to conduct Training and Technical Assistance courses for the implementation of the EU Regulation on organic production.
Expert Viorel Chivriga from the independent research and advocacy think tank explains that when the Moldova Association Agreement with the EU entered into force in 2014, it was significant to fully implement the free trade agreement.
“This means fewer procedures, an adaptation of rules that are strict for a large market and for all institutions, this means lower costs for Moldovan producers too,” says Viorel Chivriga.
Moldova in the risk group
Farmers have to double certify their products and to check the goods twice, because they export the products from a country included in the risk group. As in the past there were farmers who exported contaminated goods yet claiming that they were organic, Moldova was included in the risk group, and for this reason the products are checked twice.
“This means that from any truck that leaves our warehouse, Moldovan authorities and the destination country take samples twice. These costs ultimately reduce the profitability of the business,” says Alexei Micu – director of the “Micu & Co” Company in the organic plum orchard, Olișcani village, Soldănești district, northern Moldova.
Even if the verification of the quality is performed in specialized laboratories, large companies have created their own laboratories in which they check the quality of the goods.
SUBTEXT: How the laboratory Prograin Organic tests the germination of cereals
Prograin Organic company has invested in laboratory equipment that allows them to analyze the quality of organic seed material, but also the harvest. Spartac Chilat says that germination and growth energy are two factors that determine the quality of the seed material, and in addition to these characteristics, the company’s laboratory can also check the quality of peeled spelt, a very gluten-rich cereal, related to wheat, which needs additional processing to be peeled after harvest.
SUBTEXT: Spelt, cereal related to wheat, very rich in gluten, which after threshing remains “dressed” and needs additional processing to be peeled
“We need functional laws”
Farmers believe that, additionally to receiving subsidies to overcome the conversion period and to maintain organic farming practices, the state should pay more attention to this area by supporting agriculture and harmonizing the legal framework with the EU.
Big bags with organic cereals ready for export in the Prograin Organic warehouse
“We need relevant laws and regulations. On the other hand, Moldova should have a free pass to the foreign experience,” mentions the expert Viorel Chivriga.
The Ministry of Agriculture states that one of the major goals in this area is to sign a trade agreement with the EU for the recognition of Moldova as having a production system that meets the same objectives and principles, by applying rules that ensure the same level of assurance as the EU rules. In this case, the products would have the organic tag and carry both the national and the EU logos for organic production.
At the end of 2019, 152 Moldovan farmers cultivated products in an ecological system. Almost 30 thousand hectares of agricultural land have been converted or are in conversion, reaching only one percent of the total agricultural land of Moldova. Of the total quantity of organic products grown in Moldova, 95% are exported and 5% are sold on the domestic market.