The Portuguese company Prio Foods, a subsidiary of the Martifer Group, has invested in Romanian farmland since 2005; the company currently cultivates over 25,000 ha of land, mainly for production of vegetable oils, biofuels, and grains, since these are the most profitable crops. Most of the land is located near the port of Constanta by the Black Sea, which provides easy access for export of the commodities. Prio Foods also has activities in Brazil, Mozambique, and Angola. The company is proud of its efforts to gain control over large parts of the agricultural and food value chain, a process which is called vertical integration. As their promotional video clearly shows, their farms are industrial and large-scale, and use monocultures. By causing soil degradation and pollution, such industrial farming has extensive negative impacts on the environment. Moreover, vertical integration limits the Romanian peasantry’s access to markets to sell their produce and sustain their livelihoods.
Prio Foods’ rhetoric is also problematic. In their promotional video they claim to support local communities, to “know how important local agriculture is”, and to buy products from local farmers, “allowing them access to global markets”. However, no details are provided on what products they are buying and how they are supporting local communities. Also, global markets are highly volatile, which means that even if peasants were to take part in global value chains, the risks involved would be extensive, and the wealthy agribusinesses would always be the winners. In 2012 Prio Foods established a joint venture with retail and agribusiness giant Bunge – a company with a history of scandals related to pushing indigenous peasant communities off their land in Brazil – for the production of soy, oil, biodiesel, and margarine in Romania. Clearly, for Bunge and other agribusinesses alike, the economic agenda will always be the first priority, often at the expense of rural livelihoods and communities.
Land grabbing is destructive and disempowering for peasants, which is problematic considering that peasant agriculture is the foundation for sustainable agro-ecological food systems. Land being controlled by large agri-businesses limits the prospects for food sovereignty, or locally and democratically governed food systems which are resilient and socially just. Romania has a large peasantry, and their active role in shaping the future of food needs to be acknowledged and supported.