The government of Romania announced a partnership with the Orthodox Church to promote and build trust in rural co-operatives.
Around 25% of the population are involved in agriculture, the highest in the EU, but only 1% of farmers are members of co-op. The government hopes to increase this to 3% by the end of this year and 20% by 2020.
For many Romanian farmers the word “co-operative” brings back memories of forced collectivisation during the Communist regime, when, agricultural co-ops were owned by the state, rather than by members.
To address this, the ministry of agriculture has called on the help of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which enjoys high levels of trust in rural areas. Its priests will explain to farmers the main benefits of working together in associations or co-operatives.
The government has allocated €2.2m for the five-year project, which will primarily be used on promotional material and TV campaigns.
In recent years the country has suffered from droughts, exacerbated by a lack of proper irrigation. The government hopes more co-ops and farmer organisations will help drive investment in agricultural infrastructure and enable farmers to achieve scale.
Agriculture currently accounts for only 4.4% of its GDP, down from 15% in 1989. Romania’s economy has diversified over the past 20 years, with 47% of the population working in the services sector and 31% in the industry sector.
A former EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development, prime minister Dacian Ciolos has advocated producer organisations as a means to stabilise the market and give farmers better market opportunities.
The ministry of agriculture also worked with the Church three years ago when it signed a partnership with the patriarch, encouraging priests to convince farmers to access European funding for developing agriculture.