The Republic of Moldova is an agrarian country. The most important agricultural activities in Moldova – the production of walnuts, grapes and some other fruits is, though, squeezed between the political interests and the weak regulations regarding export monopolies establishment and preference of imported products on the internal market. The small Moldovan farms remain outside the big business, being marginalized, misinformed and discriminated when it comes to selling their products inside or outside the Republic of Moldova.
The official data
During a press release of the National Office of Vine and Wine in Moldova, it was communicated that the 2017-2018 season recorded the earliest grapes harvest in the last 40 years. At the same time, the grapes production was 15% higher compared to the average of the last 8 years. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in the period January-June 2018, the grape exports from the Republic of Moldova increased by 32.1% compared to the same period of 2017. Moldova exported grapes to Romania – 51.9% of the total export, the Russian Federation – 35% and Belarus – 3.7%.
The National Agency for Food Safety (NAFS) announced a raise in 2018 of the production and export of Moldovan fruits such as apples, plums, peaches, apricots and cherries. According to the provided data, 70.6 thousand tons of apples from 2018 year’s harvest were exported, that being three times more than in the same period of 2017. A significant increase was also recorded in the export of plums – 31 thousand tons of plums have reached the foreign markets. The NAFS talked about the export of fruits to the usual for Moldova international markets, such as the Russian market, and discovering new markets such as Iraq and Bangladesh.
The European Business Association reported a quantity of 10 thousand tons of walnuts, exported by 30 companies entitled to do the exports to France Germany or Austria. There are 29,000 hectares of walnut trees in the Republic of Moldova. In 2017, the walnuts production was 18.7 thousand tons. The main countries where the Moldovan walnuts are exported are the EU countries, Ukraine, Turkey and Russia.
Behind the curtain
Several journalistic investigations performed by few independent media institutions from Moldova, such as Ziarul de Gardă and Jurnal TV, have uncovered the ties between certain family members of the former Prime Minister of Moldova – Pavel Filip, and several companies that have an important role on the walnuts and dried fruits markets. The investigations were launched after the allegations of existing a personal interest of the former Prime Minister in maintaining a monopolistic situation on the walnuts market. While checking the reason of a dramatic decrease of walnuts selling price on the market, the journalists have found a scheme of collecting and centralizing of walnut production by few collector firms that transported them afterwards to “Monicol” SRL – a company owned by father of the Filip’s daughter-in-law. The company has a market share of about 20% and the government’s protection in their activity. The allegations were denied by Pavel Filip, but no financial information regarding the company’s activity was made public.
Svetlana Lungu, the Head of Plant Protection and Health Directorate of NAFS, explained that the process of obtaining the necessary papers for exporting walnuts is not so hard. “In the EU, the requirements are minimal. Namely, it is necessary to obtain the phytosanitary certificate for the export of products of plant origin. The registration of the exporter and the producer is required by NAFS, as well as owning or renting a storage space by the exporter and signing a contract with the producer,” declared Lungu. Therefore, as long as the process is standardized, why the Moldovan walnuts are officially exported by only 30 companies and a monopoly is established on the market unofficially? Maybe because there are some political and personal interests of ‘filtering’ the companies authorized to export.
Walnuts exporting is a profitable business in Moldova. According to TV8, one kilogram of Moldovan walnuts costs 23.94 euro on the Belgian store shelves (about 462 lei). In Moldova, one kilogram of walnuts could reach 150/200 lei on the market, but from producers it is bought for 60/80 lei per kilogram.
The situation for the grapes and fruits producers is not much better. Few weeks ago, a campaign was initiated by a grapes’ producer, Diana Crudu, that advised people not to buy flowers for the International Women’s Day, but a box of grapes or apples.
“There are over 7 thousand tons of grapes in the Moldovan warehouses. If they are not sold in the next two or three weeks, these grapes will have to be thrown away. The wine factories do not have the capacity to process and storage such a large quantity of grapes. This is the most dramatic situation faced by table grape manufacturers in the last 15 years,” said Diana in an interview for RFE/RL.
The producers are forced to sell the grapes on the local market for 3 to 6 lei per kilogram. At the same time, consumers are offered the possibility to buy imported grapes for 80 lei per kilogram in the Moldovan supermarkets.
The Ministry of Agriculture representative, Iurie Mudrea, declared that no compensation for unsold products can be provided.
“The business always involves risk. Calculate, my dear, solve the problem, think about it at the beginning of year, put some efforts. Even Russia no longer accepts low quality, we need high quality for all products. Here we have to start: big volumes, high level of quality and a lot of effort,” declared Mudrea for TV8.
The Ministry of Agriculture claimed that apples could be purchased directly from producers and distributed free of charge in schools. At the same time, the “qualitative and nicely packed” apples could be sold in the country’s retail shops, and the fruit quality monitoring infrastructure could be developed. A lot of things could be done. But will they?
The real solution came from Moldovan people. An event organized by the Klumea Association encouraged Moldovan people to become solidary with the grapes’ producers and come on Sunday, February 24th, at a bazaar in the city centre of Chisinau to buy a box of domestic grapes, with only 5 lei per kilogram. The initiative has a suggestive name: ‘Take Moldova home’.