Agricultural chambers in EU, models for Moldova, IPN debate

The dialogue between the farmers and the public authorities responsible for the agricultural sector, as well as with other central and local public authorities, is to be institutionalized through agricultural chambers. A draft law on the organization and functioning of agricultural chambers in Moldova was recently given a first reading by the lawmakers. In connection with the launch of public consultations on this topic, IPN News Agency staged a public debate entitled “Agricultural chambers in the European Union, models for the Republic of Moldova”, which centered on the need to implement this project, the role of agricultural chambers in the development of agriculture and rural environment. The participants also analyzed European models, including the Romanian one, to outline their own model, focused on the best practices from outside.

Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bolea, Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry of the Republic of Moldova, said that today agriculture is mostly underdeveloped – there are extremely efficient farmers, but they are few in number and there are many who do subsistence agriculture, some of them under no legal form. In many cases, it is more subsistence farming than agriculture that could be classified as an economic activity. In addition, many Moldovan farmers do not have access to information, do not have access to any subsidies because they have no legal form. “Only over the past two years, with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, the method of setting up professional associations has been intensively promoted. And in 2023, for the first time, farmers could not receive subsidies if they were not members of a professional association and such an approach produced results,” explained Vladimir Bolea. 

According to him, the Republic of Moldova is preparing for EU pre-accession, which involves the provision of funds. The pre-accession funds have only one purpose – preparing the economic framework for the extraordinarily strong competition from all the EU states, especially in the Black Sea Basin. “All these problems were put before us and we had to find solutions to them, to identify how we can reach each farmer with state policies, subsidy measures, advice. In 2023, the first Agriculture Consulting Centre was created. Unlike our counterparts in Romania, we managed to do this at a difference of 24 years,” noted Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bolea.

The official noted that the whole spectrum of difficulties forced a search for a solution to create a legal framework based on which the farmers in Moldova will develop harmoniously. And this framework is the agricultural chambers, which are a model taken from other EU countries. “That was the idea for us to come up with a model of farmer associations so that the farmers would have access, solve and respond to the challenges. The Chamber of Agriculture is nothing more than a professional community of farmers. And we need to develop agriculture already by moving away from this subsistence and amateur farming framework towards a professional level. And this is because the profession of farmer is a rather complicated profession that requires a lot of technology, a lot of science. Agriculture means social protection. It means our rural localities. So, agriculture is so complex that it cannot be taken as any activity and is taken as a strictly professional one,” stated Vladimir Bolea, noting that all the agricultural chambers will include branches of this Agriculture Consulting Centre.

Gheorghe Lăcătușu, Service Unit head at the General Agricultural Policies Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Romania, said that there are three models of agricultural consultancy in the European Union and the Ministry of Agriculture of Romania took over the Anglo-Saxon model of the 1990s. “We were also facing problems related to the organization of farmers. There were concerns about the future pre-accession to the European Union. We also benefited from European funds and we needed to know how to manage them and the farmers to use those funds effectively. The Ministry of Agriculture at that time opted for the Anglo-Saxon model, by setting up agencies constituted only by specialists,” explained the official.

According to him, later, including in the context of political currents, the Anglo-Saxon model was renounced in favor of the Franco-Austrian model – the model of agricultural chambers. The difference is that the first body includes only specialists, while in agricultural chambers the specialists are coordinated by farmers. “We raised this problem, but it didn’t work although we have a law that is still unrepealed today. Unfortunately, in Romania this model could not be applied. In our opinion, it was due to the fact that they thought from bottom to up, which is to designate the large farmers as bosses, but there is a big discrepancy between the views of small farmers and what the large farmers think as these have the opportunity to finance their own services of considerations. However, in our country this was not well understood and we chose to put the bosses forward. So, this system in Romania didn’t work and doesn’t work today, although the law still exists,” said Gheorghe Lăcătușu.

He noted that on the other hand, there is also the other body, following the Anglo-Saxon model, which was integrated into the agricultural divisions. In parallel, the private sector was stimulated to absorb European funds. Private firms that advise farmers on the development of financing projects developed considerably. “Here was a success story for us because there were no agricultural chambers to take over this task and the private sector came. But currently we have consulting services in the public units of agricultural divisions. They were integrated, decentralized. They offer consultancy comprehensible to farmers,” stated Gheorghe Lăcătușu.

Ina Butucel, director of the Business Environment and Agricultural Policy Component of the USAID Rural Competitiveness and Resilience Activity, the Republic of Moldova, said that, before initiating the process of drafting the bill, the experience of other states was analyzed, which demonstrated successful models of organizing agricultural chambers. The Slovenian, Austrian, Polish and Hungarian models were studied. “We came to the conclusion that particular elements are beneficial and should be taken from practically all the models analyzed, but the basic one was the Austrian one. And this is because the agricultural chambers were built according to the bottom-up approach – a model that is absolutely suitable for the Republic of Moldova as well,” noted Ina Butucel.

According to her, ten agricultural chambers will be set up at regional level and farmers will delegate representatives to work on the governing bodies of these chambers. It goes to the general assembly of the members of the chambers, a council that will coordinate the work of the chamber and there will be an executive director elected by competition, who will coordinate the actual activity of the agricultural chamber. At the same time, all these chambers will delegate representatives to the National Agricultural Chamber, which will be that umbrella forum that will coordinate all the ten chambers nationwide. It will also be the link in the decision-making process and the adoption of public policies by the Government.

“Why link? Because the agricultural chamber will have its own representative even in the Board of the Ministry, in various commissions, working groups created by the Ministry of Agriculture or other ministries, for the decision-making process pertinent to the agricultural sector. The draft law provides for such a mechanism of cooperation and dialogue between agricultural chambers and the public authorities,” said Ina Butucel.

According to her, the Austrian model also offered enough experience and information to take over aspects related to the financing of work of agricultural chambers – an element that is not less important to ensure their sustainability. The statutes of the Chambers of Agriculture should provide that the sources of their financing shall be, on the one hand, the membership fees. Each farmer contributing through this fee instantly arrogate to themselves the right and access to the services that the chamber is to provide in terms of consultancy, access to technologies, processes, funding sources, projects that are ongoing or are to be implemented. On the other hand, the agricultural chamber, in its capacity as farmers’ representative, can access other sources from various funds that are available to the NGO sector,” noted Ina Butucel.

Viorel Morărescu, head of the Plant Policy Division of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Romania, said the idea of building agricultural chambers from bottom to up is a good thing because farmers are involved. “When we meet farmers’ needs, we can also have results and the farmers will be satisfied with the services that you or the experts you hire will provide to farmers. Both the large and small farmers, even if the large ones have the opportunity to hire their own consultants, also need particular information, elements. All the more the small farmers, who are practically helpless, when we talk about information, consultancy, advice, technology transfer from research to farmers,” stated the official.

In his opinion, it is necessary to have specialists trained according to the specifics of the districts, who in turn should be professionally trained for what consulting means as they have to provide technical, economic, managerial, marketing consultancy, etc. “So, things are not that simple. For example, we have departments and teams for writing projects for European funds. They are trained people and there are standard projects that are to be implement for farmers. I would give another example regarding vocational training, vocational training courses for those who do not have studies – a university or an agricultural high school - and do not have a diploma. In this regard, there are professional training courses accredited by the Ministry of Labor,” said Viorel Morărescu.

The public debate entitled “Agricultural chambers in the European Union, models for the Republic of Moldova” was the fourth installment of the project “Double integration through cooperation and information. Continuity”, which is funded by the Department for Relations with the Republic of Moldova. The content of this debate does not represent the official position of the Department for Relations with the Republic of Moldova.

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