Written by: Claire Bernardin, Land Rights intern at Eco Ruralis
Whereas the phenomenon of land grabbing in regions such as Africa or South-East Asia becomes better-known and more widely acknowledged – sometimes under the politically-soft term of large-scale land acquisition – it is commonly thought to be an issue “elsewhere”, far away from the European struggles. However, in this part of the globe too, especially in Eastern Europe, land grabs do threaten the environment and food sovereignty through monocultures fed with synthetic inputs and destined for export.
In Romania where the association Eco Ruralis operates, foreign-owned agricultural land accounts for at least 700.000 hectares according to 2012 statistics provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, that is to say 8.5% of the Romanian arable land. And land grabbing does not necessarily involve foreigners: many locals own farms growing several thousands of hectares. Moreover, land deals do not only include purchases but also leases, which increases the area involved.
To better understand the Romanian situation, Eco Ruralis have created an interactive map focused on agricultural land, which aims to highlight the areas where the main land grabs have happened. The map will soon be integrated into a web platform also containing a more comprehensive legend and introduction into the national situation. Such tools already exist (http://www.landmatrix.org) but they are not focused strictly on Romania and may not get revised from a grassroots point of view. The Eco Ruralis team, however, works to keep up to date with the information and gets hints from the public and members who can report a deal here.
Eco Ruralis mostly used the Top 100 recipients of agricultural subsidies in Romania and investigated every company to gather useful data such as their activity, their main stakeholders, or the area they control, using Romanian companies lists, the companies’ official websites or press articles. However, the information often lacks transparency and changes rapidly, as when for instance a transnational company gets bought by another, so vigilance is required.
What is obvious when glancing at the map is the geographical breakdown of the deals. The vast majority of them is located on the fertile plains of the Danube basin and now that most available land has been grabbed, deals move into Transylvania, bounded on the east and south by the Carpathians.
What was striking during this investigation process was how most companies are interconnected and how those companies often share tight bonds with officials, whether those belong to national or local government. All of this is referenced on the map: each marker represents a company and by clicking on it, more details are revealed.
Half of the 112 deals reported for now (July 2015) involve foreign investors. Sixteen countries – mostly European – are thus represented although 66% of the foreigners come from five countries: Germany (9.82% of the total deals), Italy (8%), Denmark (6.25%), Austria (4.46%) and Lebanon (4.46%).
Regarding the area owned/leased by the registered companies, half of them control between 3,000 and 5,000 hectares. Among the other half, twenty-one (18.75%) control more than 10,000 hectares, with the top companies managing up to 57,000 hectares. Above all, this sort of farming does not generate much employment, as shown for each company by the indicator “Hectares per employee”, always much higher than the average of 2.02 hectares grown by traditional Romanian peasants.
Besides, 43 companies belong to corporate groups. Those often operate in various other fields, such as real estate. Among these companies, only eight are Romanian, which shows how foreign investment – and more generally land grabbers – usually have more interest in profitable businesses than in the food security and sovereignty of the country.
Since January 1st 2014, any citizen from the European Economic Area is allowed to purchase land in Romania without owning a Romanian company, which makes such land grabs even more straightforward.
On June 8th 2015, the European Commission stated, when faced with a study by the Transnational Institute about farmland grabbing, that land grabbing only accounts for 0.1% of the phenomenon, the remainder simply being land concentration.
Together with the inaction or even the support given to land grabbers by both local and national governments, this stance of the EU makes it crucial to raise awareness among politicians and peasants as well as among civil society, and that map of the Romanian situation is a useful tool for that. Spread the word!