Agriculture in Moldova: on the Verge of Emergency

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Agriculture in Moldova is becoming increasingly risky business. Climate change, weak economic positions and lack of strategic management are the key reasons for the approaching collapse of the industry 
Last week, weather forecasters issued another warning about heat and drought. The State Hydrometeorological Service reported that the country’s reservoirs have dropped drastically without precipitation, and the population should use water more sparingly. Code red hydrological danger was declared in some areas. In this regard, the talks about the crisis in agriculture re-emerge in the country. The newly appointed sectoral minister Vladimir Bolea even promised to ask the Commission of Emergency Situations to declare emergency state in agriculture. “By the end of the week, we will hold consultations with all relevant institutions and announce urgent measures to mitigate the effects of the drought. We are also negotiating with external partners to secure funding for agriculture,” the official revealed. This year’s abnormal heat and drought is indeed severe and is destroying crops not only in Moldova, but also all over Europe: one third of apples and pears have already been destroyed in Portugal, in Romania farmers expect a quarter of the potato crop to be destroyed and maize to suffer serious losses. However, it is worth admitting that heat and drought come to Moldova actually in a year. In the year when there is no drought, there are floods in the country. Over the past 30 years, our country has only strengthened its status as a zone of risky agriculture. Climate change: deny it or adapt to it Since June 24, a “code orange” danger has been in effect in most of the country due to the hydrological drought – water levels in rivers, including the Dniester, have dropped to critical levels. In addition, this year’s drought has also negatively affected the level of groundwater, which is the main source of drinking water for 100% of the rural population and 30% of the urban population. If we abstract from the current crisis caused by another drought and look back over the past 10-20 years, it will be obvious that droughts and floods are striking our country more and more often. Experts say that climate change leads to an increase in the number of extreme phenomena, and the forecast for the Lower Dniester is far from favorable. Global warming has not bypassed us: from 1991 to 2021 the average temperature in Moldova increased by 1.3°C. The agriculture of the Republic is sensitive to these changes. According to experts, if during the next 10 years the tendency of temperature increase and precipitation decrease does not change, there is a danger that by 2029 the volume of agricultural production will decrease by one quarter. We can already see this degradation. After a serious quarter drop in agricultural production in 1994, almost every other year there has been a further decline in production. In 2020, the industry experienced its deepest crisis in 30 years: agricultural production decreased by 27%. 2022 is also likely to break this anti-record. Moldova is located in the steppe zone of risky agriculture, soil droughts – when the moisture reserves in the soil are depleted and not replenished by rainfall – occur two to three times every five years. Experts urge to stop panicking every time, and to finally use the arsenal of technologies at our disposal to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. For example, to develop a plan to increase the forest cover, to restore the hydrological regime of the Dniester River, to refuse from the traditional arable farming in favor of a system of zero tillage, and to spend money on irrigation systems. The authorities plan to restore Soviet-era irrigation systems by 2030, but this will cost about 2 billion euros. Our country cannot stop global warming. However, we can adapt. Namely, we should adapt, otherwise we will lose not only crops and oil-bearing plants but also traditional viniculture. Gradual but steady warming is already affecting: high temperatures are held too long, grape plants are exposed to critical water stress, and late spring frosts are fraught with 100% losses. Last year, for example, merlot and pinot varieties were damaged. Moldova is one of the most vulnerable countries in Europe to climatic changes. This is influenced, among other things, by the level of people’s dependence on agriculture. Rich people have the resources to cope with climate change – to move north, to build a new house to replace the flooded one. Our population doesn’t. “We don’t talk much about climate change, as if we had nothing to do with it. However, the climate crisis is already hitting us over the head with a club, and we seem not to notice. Yes, the US, China and Russia must reduce their carbon emissions. And we should do our best to adapt,” calls the eco-activist, energy efficiency expert of Green City Lab association Eugen Camenscic. Crisis amid crisis Climate is not the only problem for farmers, thousands of whom are now on the brink of bankruptcy. Having survived the pandemic, they faced unforeseen factors on a regional scale. First, with a huge increase in fuel and fertilizer prices, then with a fan of problems shaped by the war in Ukraine. Moldova was deprived of many export chains because they included Ukrainian infrastructure. Also, our producers were deprived of Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian markets. The war forced Ukrainian producers to sell a large stock of grain and oilseeds at a relatively low price. This led to a strong decline in purchase prices at a time when the cost of fuel and fertilizers increased significantly. Moreover, the supply chain was disrupted and transporters increased the grain transportation price several times. Moldovan farmers are forced to sell their wheat at half the price than expected, or keep it stored until better times. New prices barely cover production costs. Experts say that there are areas sown with sunflowers, from which farmers will not harvest anything, as there is no point in going to the field with a combine harvester, if the harvesting will be more expensive than the product itself. In March, the Association of Farmers delivered an ultimatum to the government: either the Cabinet of Ministers reduces the price of diesel fuel, or tractors will come to Chisinau again, and the protests of summer 2020 will come back. The government got off with a promise to compensate 30% of the excise tax on diesel fuel used in agriculture. So far, however, the compensations have not been paid. “We can no longer offer compensation and assistance to the whole country, there is no resource to offer it,” Maia Sandu told the farmers. The 26.5 million dollars paid to the farmers in January-April are the payments for last year’s applications. The authorities managed to agree on a year-long increase in quotas for the export of seven types of agricultural products from Moldova to the EU: tomatoes, garlic, table grapes, apples, sweet cherries, plums and grape juice. “We cannot ignore Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and its influence on Moldova. Along with the elimination of cancelled tariffs on the remaining agricultural products, which have not yet been fully liberalized, Moldova can export duty-free to the EU at least twice as much of its products. With these exceptional measures, the EU deepens its trade relations with Moldova and shows support for stabilizing the country’s economy,” Czech Industry and Trade Minister Jozef Sikela commented on the EU decision. Besides, the apple export issue was also successfully resolved – in April the shipment to Russia was restored, though with significant logistical nuances. Very large investments were made in apple orchards in the last 15 years, but Moldovan apples are in demand only in the Russian market. It cannot be said that no state efforts have been made in the sector at all. For example, the World Bank’s grants of 3.1 million dollars for the development of sustainable agriculture and another 55 million dollars for the development of irrigation of small agricultural land have been attracted, and new markets are being negotiated. At the same time, there is a lack of systematic support and a systemic understanding of processes which turns agriculture into a non-profitable sector. It is high time the authorities developed a clear strategy and model of farming, instead of trying to solve the problems by merging universities, changing responsible officials, and even more so by empty compensation promises. The new Minister Vladimir Bolea has a lot of work – we can only hope that he will be able if not to bring agriculture to “good times”, then at least to get it out of “bad times”.