The cornerstone of the Romanian food system is the large number of small-scale subsistence farms that nowadays hardly have any room in a market dominated by the agri-food industry. Right at the other end of the food chain, a small but increasing number of health-conscious consumers fumble for fresh organic food in the supermarket shelves. Against this backdrop, CSA represents the missing link that can reconnect the two ends, filling the gap created by the market through a consumer-producer relationship based on the values of co-responsibility, solidarity and mutual trust.
In 2008, the Centre of Resources for Solidarity and Ethical Initiatives (CRIES ), an NGO whose aim is to promote social economy in Romania, initiated the first consumer-producer partnership and helped establish the “Association for the Support of Peasant Agriculture” (Asociația pentru Susținerea Agriculturii Țărănești, ASAT ). Starting in the town of Timisoara, ASAT partnerships that are inspired by the French AMAP model have expanded across the whole country. They can now be found in several larger Romanian cities like Bucharest, Cluj, Arad, Odorheiu, Secuiesc and Sibiu. The network currently brings together 10 CSA groups and 900-1000 conscious consumers.
The current scheme of the ASAT partnership has played a role in supporting access to land by helping small farmers to survive or grow by giving them a secure and fair compensation for their work. It also helped young Romanian producers earn their livelihood on their own land with ecological methods instead of migrating as agriculture labourers on intensive large farms. Nonetheless, if we want to analyse the link between the Romanian CSA movement and access to land from the perspective of future developments, there is still a lot that can be done. Point 5.9 of the ASAT Charter states that the “members of the partnership should reflect on its continuity and on making their activities permanent ones through actions such as: e.g. collective purchases and solidary investments.”
This means that the consumers’ engagement can evolve to make a more effective contribution to securing land. Consumers can purchase land jointly with other ASAT members, thus becoming shareholders of Commons that will eventually be entrusted to a farmer. For example, the group of ASAT consumers in Bucharest came up with the idea of jointly buying an orchard so that it could be further developed and cared for by the family of CSA producers. This would cater for their access to fruit to complement the access to organic vegetables that they get in their weekly CSA share. The details of this initiative are still under discussion in the group. Furthermore, consumers provide a peasant with the direct financial resources to lease land when the area in ownership is not enough for the size of the CSA group.
The first land trust initiative that aims to provide access to land to a new generation of peasants in Romania is about to be established as a cooperation between members of both the national ASAT network and the organisation standing up for the rights of the numerous Romanian peasants, Eco Ruralis (member of via Campesina). The majority of Romanian small peasants have a hard time to find a successor to take over their farming operation. Therefore, a likely scenario is that these farms will be incorporated into larger farms, developed for non-agricultural purposes, or abandoned. This issue is linked to the first constraint highlighted by ASAT - the transmission of the small-farming model to other farmers - and gives room for the hypothesis that CSA may render small-scale ecological food production a viable livelihood alternative for the new generation of entrants into farming. The idea of removing land from the market and placing it under a common, democratically managed land trust initiative would fit well with the larger ideals of CSA. The land owned by a retiring farmer could be purchased by the future ’land trust organization’ and then made available to new peasants with certain use criteria, like agrocecological principles. This partnership: land trust organization with CSA solidarity economy and training in agroecological methods would result in making rural living an attractive option for motivated new farmers.
Farmers from 10 CSA groups across Romania