Seeding ideas, cultivating success with EU-Moldova agriculture programme
Moldova’s climate and soils is ideal for growing fruit and vegetables. The country is one of the top ten worldwide exporters of apples and is famous for its grapes and walnuts. But the long-term focus on fruit meant that vegetables were often imported.
Sandunelu and Europlant spotted the gap in the market for homegrown vegetables. They grew their produce for Moldovan supermarkets and the hotel, restaurant and catering sector. But the relatively small amounts cultivated by these two family-run companies made it difficult for them to develop their businesses. Sandunelu started with only two hectares under production, before expanding to 50.
"We were inspired by several producers we visited in Ukraine. At first, it seemed strange to us when they said that the vegetable business is profitable, but then we decided to try,” says Ion Cojocaru, whose father founded Sandunelu. “We produced small quantities of onions, carrots and beetroots, which did not allow us to establish relationships with supermarket chains in the country. Therefore, we decided to gradually increase our area under production."
But growing more vegetables was not enough to make the businesses grow. As well as increasing the amount of produce, they had to modernise. Big buyers want fresh produce that is sorted for quality and size, as well as washed, weighed, packaged, labelled and, finally, prepared for delivery. Prospective buyers also ask for a year-round supply of packed vegetables, so the companies needed storage facilities for bigger stocks.
“In the beginning, we packed the vegetables manually into 1.5, 2 or 5 kg packages,” says Cojocaru. “But this meant very high costs and we tried to identify alternatives.”
The results show in the record of individual companies, too. Sandunelu now supplies about 60% of all onions and carrots sold through supermarkets in Moldova.
EU-Moldova agriculture programme and economic policy
The Fruit Garden of Moldova programme supports the Moldovan horticulture sector, which is almost exclusively made up of small and medium-sized businesses. The programme is part of the European Union’s support for Moldova and aims to boost trade and economic growth, including agriculture and rural development. The Association Agreement signed in 2014 by Moldova and the European Union and contains the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement, which has been laying the groundwork to facilitate the country’s access to the EU market for its products and services. The DCFTA foresees that Moldova, over the course of ten years, will pass under local legislation hundreds of EU Directives and regulations, with a view to becoming fully aligned to EU standards. While most of the benefits will be visible once the process is completed, already between 2014 and 2016 sales of preserved vegetables to the European Union increased by 455%, while exports of Moldovan preserved fruits and nuts more than doubled and chestnut sales almost tripled. Between 2015 and 2019, the share of Moldova’s exports going to Europe rose to 68% from around 50%.
The Fruit Garden of Moldova programme is helping develop Moldova’s horticulture value chain. The €120 million programme focusses on horticulture to improve the quality of fresh and processed produce from the fields to delivery. It follows the same structure and approach of an earlier European Investment Bank-funded project in Moldova aiming to modernise the wine sector.
These developments will create more and better-paid jobs in rural areas, with less migration out of Moldova. There are benefits for consumers, too, through safer, better quality, locally grown agricultural products, as well as lower prices.