Agro-ecological Knowledge Hub

RO case study workshop discussed the governance dimension of agro-ecology

Education and knowledge transfer, localised and collective infrastructures, and a more supple regulation framework identified as key solutions to support and boost the use of agro-ecological practices in Romania at a workshop organised at the end of July by WWF-Romania under the UNISECO project to analyse the governance dimension of agro-ecology, stakeholders representing key actors in the governance system identified a set of solutions to address barriers to agro-ecology in Romania, as well as ideas to take advantage of existing opportunities to support and expand the use of agro-ecological practices.

An improved education system in agriculture coupled with ongoing knowledge transfer through a future AKIS, localised and collective storage and processing infrastructures, and a more supple regulation framework with adaptations to the specificity of small farmers and producers were some of the key solutions mapped out in the workshop.

The workshop took place on one of the farms which were subject to previous project analyses focusing on various aspects of sustainability, namely Topa farm. The farm is located in Southern Transylvania, near the medieval citadel of Sighisoara, and it is a family farm, with a mixture of livestock (cattle and chicken), haymaking, an orchard and medicinal plants. It is comprised of 15 ha of arable land and 20 ha of grassland, and their produce are certified organic.

Stakeholders were invited to the workshop based on their profile and expertise in relation to the agro-ecological practices targeted for discussion: the production and/or use of compost (farm and plot level), orchard meadows (landscape level), and extensive grazing (farm and landscape level). Some of the barriers and drivers of composting which were looked into were the lack of information/consultancy services for the use of agro-ecological practices, higher management complexity in these practices coupled in some cases with high costs of equipment and/or labour and a preference for chemical inputs, and the power of example and a growing demand for quality products, respectively. In regard to orchard meadows and extensive grazing, participants discussed the farmers’ obligation to clear vegetation from their agricultural lands in order to comply with eligibility criteria for direct area-based payments, administrative barriers (bureaucracy and the too strict hygiene and food safety rules for small producers), and the insufficient market access for local products from farms using agro-ecological practices.

The general conclusions regarding the practice of composting: there are rules on a national level regarding manure/compost storage platforms and their management, stemming from the Nitrite and Nitrate Directive and transposed into cross-compliance requirements in Pillar 1 of the current Common Agricultural Policy. It is debatable whether it can be a profitable development avenue for the farm, but certainly one that gives important soil benefits including by using less synthetic fertilizers. To produce compost on a large scale in order to sell it, one needs special, expensive machinery, and so it can be an option for big farms. Another option explored in the workshop was to create manure/compost storage platforms at commune level, built and managed by the local councils using new, dedicated funding means through LEADER/EAFDR. There is a need for examples of good practice and consultancy at local level about the use of agro-ecological practices and the health impact of pollution produced by agriculture. An important role will be played by the future AKIS, which will be set up in the near future along with the new National Strategic Plan for 2021-2027. 

In regards to orchard meadows and extensive grazing, there is an underlying need for education and information from the realm of agro-ecology at all levels - from policy-making which seems out of touch with realities on the ground, to information and advisory services which are also underdeveloped and their reach in the country is very low, to local authorities and farmers themselves who seem to be losing essential knowledge and skill in working with nature, which in the past were the norm, and finally to consumers who have an essential role in modelling the market to favour more products coming from agro-ecological systems. Going further to aspects related to how farming is organised at local level - a common thread is the idea that doing things together rather than in an individualistic manner will probably be the solution for boosting the economic performance of the various forms of agro-ecological practice. Farmers/producers need to start or join associative structures in order to gain visibility and power in the food chain and in policy-making, and in order to make investments more easily; and local authorities need to gear up their capacities to create collective infrastructures needed to integrate production, processing and delivery of food outside the production area. In terms of law-making, one concrete and feasible step that could be taken to ease the administrative and financial burden faced by producers who want to create added-value through processing, is the simplification of provisions related to the locker room which are too restrictive in the Romanian transposition of European “recommendations”. Additionally, on a national level, public procurement conditions and regulations need to be updated and improved to facilitate the sourcing of food from the local level and from agro-ecological systems, and on an European level, there is a need for convergence in subsidies so as to reduce the pressure of incorrect competition from products imported from countries with higher income support.

The case study in Romania is focused on the Transylvanian Highlands and Maramures, areas characterised by a fragmented agricultural landscape with mosaic patches of semi-natural grasslands created and maintained by traditional livestock grazing systems, and small plots of cultivated land with rather low intensity/extensive management and circular farming patterns practiced over generations.

The dilemma which is being researched under the project is How to increase the economic viability of small- scale farming while preserving the cultural landscape and biodiversity?

Read more abou the RO case study here.

Text/Photos: WWF-RO