“Land grabbing” in Romania is a problem. Large areas of arable land are falling into the hands of major foreign investors, at the expense of local people.
So-called land grabbing, buying up large areas of agricultural land, is no longer just a phenomenon in Africa or Latin America – it is a topic around the world. Countries in Eastern Europe are also increasingly affected. The documentary looks at the people affected by large-scale land acquisitions. A change to the law in 2014 has made Romania’s pastures and arable land highly attractive to foreign investors, from Europe and around the world. Buying agricultural land brings in big EU farming subsidies. And when farming no longer pays off for domestic smallholders, they feel forced to sell their holdings. It’s turned into a kind of mass fire sale. But in many cases of land grabbing, the land isn’t used for agricultural purposes. Pasture and arable land is left fallow, or it goes into private ownership. And local farmers and people are paying a heavy price. Monoculture is destroying biodiversity and cheap agricultural products from abroad are wrecking the country’s domestic markets. The land is being pulled from under the feet of an entire generation of Romanian farmers. But a group is keen to mobilize Romania’s five million small-scale farmers to oppose land grabbing in the country.
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there is a sale on in Romania's Carpathian foothills a sale on agricultural land big investors snap it up at a discount anyone with connections used them to enrich themselves and buy land and for those of us who just wanted to make a living as livestock farmers there was no land left and farmers are threatened and the best monopolies ever here at the foot of the Carpathians in the Transylvanian heartland capitalism has taken root with a vengeance for many it's a blessing for peasant farmer and livestock owner or video gurgle it's a curse unlike most young Romanians he is not sought his fortune abroad or in one of the country's burgeoning urban areas he wants to breed animals in Romania in Transylvania in his home village of brew use I was still a child maybe seven or eight years old when my grandfather gave me a sheep and a lamb I was delighted I finished school and immediately started breeding animals I was hoping to set up my own business to build a livestock farm a future but it's getting harder and harder Tom I slapped on my roof for five years now a video has been expanding his herd he now owns a hundred and fifty sheep as well as 30 goats eight dogs and two donkeys it's a small fortune but he doesn't view his animals as capital since they introduced subsidies livestock farmers get ripped off while others get money for their land there's a lot of shady business going on it would have been better if they'd given us subsidies or a fixed price for our wool in the past there were no subsidies and farmers did just fine the wool was paid for there was demand for lamb milk and cheese today nothing works for the past two or three years we've only had just enough to survive his business needs more postulant to be economically viable there's very little land left in communal ownership and too many animals and land that belongs to the co-operative is sold off by the privatization agency several thousand hectares end up in the hands of just one owner farmland is a worthwhile investment a rapid increase in value and EU subsidies with 250 to 300 euros per hectare per year are guaranteed that's why I started working with them you can't breed animals if you don't have a heart for them the tourist resort Alberta is just a few kilometers away it's an impressive operation with a trout farm hotel and restaurant that seats a thousand the owner is from Transylvania ethnic German population he was born here emigrated and then returned fifteen years ago now he invests in land I'm a software engineer him from the profits of my software company I invest in things that I enjoy from the virtual into the real world so to speak I try to make a difference by farming trout I bought land even though I don't know anything about animals only now do I realize I need stables veterinarians good breeding animals so gradually I began to develop and learn these things the hard way so London India shouting to your filial gasp it's a LaDonna grazing land was traditionally communal and here that changed with Romania's accession to the European Union FIFA's in 950 here Shepherds virtually ruled the land and to a certain extent had been able to make their own laws and then 15 years ago I had this idea shepherds disturb the tourism business so if I bought the land I could at least push the Shepherd's as far out as possible so that my visitors and I can enjoy this beautiful countryside there's a network a nice Inca millets restaurant caters two busloads of tourists from Germany and abroad no one he says wants to hear bleating sheep soon when the financial crisis hit Romania in 2007 and eight locals started selling their land simply because in the long run it wasn't viable for them to keep it at that time I was able to buy land you could say I pounced and I was offered more land than I had money to buy oodles of coffee in the meantime Martin Miller has acquired around 2,000 hectares approximately the area of 4,000 football pitches and he's not the only one many investors have discovered romanian agricultural land is a profitable investment internet and office I've read stories about land grabbing on the internet and of Facebook I also know many examples from the west and south of Romania where hundreds of hectares of agricultural land have been bought by foreign companies which I actually don't think is a bad thing as long as it's used at the moment fifty percent of land in Romania is unused I repeat unused or get notes doesn't that's a much cited figure that has never been officially confirmed over there you can hear the shepherd that's my neighbor and the way the sheep are bleating it sounds like they'd love to be in this pasture because the grass is juicier here chef it's not that fond me the flattery has to follow the rules now legal note under EU regulations grazing land is not classified as a pasture it's an asset Shepherds have to rent the land owners receive subsidies but only if the land is used for grazing Romania had five million small farmers when it joined the EU ten years ago nearly a third of the population lived on its own land in a state of poverty by Western standards it was enough to get by but there was no commercial gain despite pledges by Brussels that it wants to promote small-scale farming the Romanian government's declared aim is to consolidate agricultural production into larger units a political strategy to help the rural population remains absent to this day in Romania they are now only large-scale landowners and a rural proletariat small livestock farmers like a video are losing out against politics against the economy against the trend Martin Miller now owns the land where video gurgles sheep once grazed free of charge Miller collects EU subsidies and rent from a video there's nothing you can do or say people sold in the land he didn't be scamming off the authorities he bought it and now he rents it out because he isn't allowed to hold a land that it's not grazed and he doesn't have enough animals to keep the grass under control so we keep it clean we're almost done there are still thistles back there it has to be clean and grazed it's monitored by satellite and if he doesn't use the land for grazing he'll lose the subsidy the decline of the peasant farming economy is changing demographics speeding up a massive migration into the cities especially among young people only those who have seen the sign of the times have a bright future here Martin Miller the software engineer and landowner has become a large-scale farmer his lands have to be grazed in order to meet EU subsidy requirements so he has acquired animals the production chain was already in place his restaurant business in Alberta and another in the state capital CBU only serve a produce made on his farm what doesn't go straight to the table is sold in-house over the counter in total we have about 250 Angus cattle more than 1,200 sheep about 800 goats pigs special Mangalitsa pigs an ancient Hungarian breed of domestic Pig about 120 in all and we also raise Cameroon sheep for meat one of them mowers so are the Angus cattle I don't need a mower they know the land themselves the combination of cattle sheep and Buffalo is perfect for maintaining and improving pasture quality divide that by the four basic house it for better quality [Applause] Martin Miller is a businessman he cares about process optimization not animals he employs just for people to breed and care for his animals in fact it's a family of four thus probably mistake is a national problem under land restitution law people reclaimed farms confiscated from their families but they no longer have the ability to develop it with global competition the problem isn't our Buffalo it's that foreign companies like Kaufland dominate the Romanian market more than 50% of the dairy products in a Kaufland supermarket in Romania are imported goods not from Romania for small farmers Kaufland is part of the problem regional farmers markets have been squeezed out by the German discounters there is no longer a market for regional products declining Bo and Hamish nail in a lender typically when small farmers quickly got their land back it was an exciting time a promising trend that I observed as an outsider back and I thought it was wonderful you would see these pictures of daksha cars with hooks attached to the top of the roof racks and the trunks were stuffed with bags of grain for pigs and so on and everyone was just happy to be able to cultivate their family land again it was a natural return to their roots to what really counts what communism had not been able to destroy was then destroyed by the preparation for EU accession and poster session by the Common Agricultural Policy Mir Papa Thiam are very Shuster is trying to mobilize opposition to this ecologically controversial approach whereby agricultural companies work the land rather than farmers but land grabbing by new investors is happening at a rapid pace it's often unclear who's acquiring the land the lanyard is in the land-grabbers are various entities there are Dutch pension funds Arab sheiks who invest their money in holdings and of course simple smart individuals the holdings will not really help a clue there's one common denominator they all share they are all unscrupulous and have no values no moral terraced fields shrubs bushes and even springs are being plowed over in the resulting fields rapeseed or maize is grown primarily for the production of biofuel monoculture is replacing diversity swiss organic farmer paul huber wanted to live out his dream here and practice sustainable agriculture but then another investor came from germany came saw and purchased when Gail came it all lesbian if money doesn't matter you can do a main stand it he must be a man with a lot of money to just buy everything up got the money from here I think he didn't come with that much money he just bribed the mayor and everyone else around here comes from the EU his first hundred hectares brought him I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of euros people sconces people I don't know how the whole game works I think he already has machinery worth a million where he's laundering black money or laundering it through subsidies no idea exactly through subsidies as a ventolin bitch there's no future here it's bad cause easily concern fuels speculation among farmers but one thing is visible Paula Hoover's field is surrounded by the fields of the land grabber even his access road was plowed over his Matt's wife field up there Magnum felt he was here four meters tell right here and then they wonder why they have erosion with so much monoculture that's today's agro industry for you rational and heartless money is all that matters nor food and Galesburg the centuries-old cultural landscape is eroding under the EU open market policies not using pesticides or heavy machinery generated a biodiversity unique to the arc of Romania's Carpathian Mountains Vinicius tur does not just use social media to organize resistance he regularly meets up with fellow activists to discuss their experiences they tell us who they know Martine Miller is expanding here in the south he already has a trout farm in our border and from there he spread all over the old valley and adjacent valleys patatas now she thought that so he is here and here in our area we have the other guy who bought all the land between media and Sega svaha as well as all the adjoining valleys maybe I mean a singer shorter she sound really the group wants to mobilize Romania's five million small-scale farmers new Canberra recently Fernanda the problem is Romania small-scale farmers do not know each other we're scattered all over Romania and that's the challenge faced by initiatives and associations like ours we're sending out a signal to say we're here peasant farming has a viable future it needs to be saved it's sustainable give get it the Tibetan its value is appreciated everywhere in the West in the developed world where they've lost it they want it back and we're throwing it away in Viet Martinez is Vic Mario scorer bazan has just returned from France where he looked at small family farms and their grassroots movements they're always talking about the power of small-scale farming and it's already met with the response a broad trade unions mergers and they even have the power to change laws in France says keen Bay village on the other hand in Romania we're barely scratching the surface some of us enlightened about the subject meat because we want to make a difference others look at us as if we come from another planet we tell a columnist a rocket many locals have given up and sold their land their own farms were often too small to turn them into economically viable businesses and they had no money to acquire additional land fertile ground for land grabbers okay they call it item if the wool is good quality and from a good breed you get 12 cents per kilo if you sell by weight then for every sheep with one and a half to two Peters of wool you have a quarter kilo of waste but that's not figured into the equation if you don't like the price you're left sitting on your wool direct customers such as textile mills have disappeared from the region today middlemen set the prices the EU has funding programs for young entrepreneurs but the paperwork alone can be overwhelming for farmers applications for animal projects are very difficult the bureaucracy is far too complicated it's hopeless you hit a wall every time I've already tried yeoreum farmer with qualifications but it doesn't matter at some point I couldn't get any further now I try twice it came to nothing you have to spend a lot of money but you never know if it's going to pay off there are consultants who can help small farmers with the highly complicated subsidy application process but they charge 10% of the sum being applied for regardless of whether the application is approved or not twenty-five-year-old a video still lives with his parents his father was a long-haul truck driver for years and knows every corner of Europe nevertheless he still wants to live here in Peru in Transylvania in Romania the family eats almost exclusively homegrown food not out of ideological conviction but because it has always been that way and because it tastes better the fatty bacon the sausage the eggs everything is homemade including the traditional plum schnapps a videos father has been mayor for a year he sees both sides of the issue we have a problem in Romania with small and medium-sized farmers they're being strangled by the huge farms the large scale investors have the financial means to buy land and the small-scale farmers get nothing as a community we just don't have any land to lease there's nothing left not a single square meter only survives because we support him because his father invested the money he owns as a truck driver in sheep farming he could never support a family of his own never in the fullness Cistercian Monastery of cats from the 13th century mass is still said in German for 15 years Martin Miller has been the parishes most prominent member he married here his children were baptized here he is well respected and during the service is allowed to sit in the pew reserved for church dignitaries the 1990s exodus of Transylvania ethnic Germans to nearly unified Germany sparked a rapid decline of an 800 year old culture houses villages and churches were left to decay the teacher's house was also a ruin Martin Miller funded its renovation so it could be used as a community center this is another way we contribute to the community the community uses it it's part of a deal but the community can use it for all their festivals DeeDee bacon those who complain are not small farmers at all there are people who have regained land to which they have no relationship their land was taken away from their families in the 1950s in the collectivization Drive and they moved to work in factories or someplace else but they never worked the land when I got the land back they knew nothing about it and when they had to pay tax they said get me out of here when Muller bought the land of course some people thought that they could have gotten in cheaper and sold it for more it's the same everywhere a grass is greener and so as Martin Miller plans to expand even further but his investment has already paid off prices have tripled over the last 10 years Phil regen puberty I feel like a pioneer who is transforming this land into farmland in the areas where I've linked my parcels together I can prove that there are now good pastures it doesn't bother me if I'm called a land grabber I'm bringing order to the land registry office I'm clearing and developing the land I've boosted its value and I produce at least twice as much with the 20% of land I bought from the community as the whole community of villages or peasant farmers produces with the remaining 80% of land clarified when land becomes a commodity there's more at stake than money the local farming economy is dying an inevitable death but a video is defiant obliged you know this work still gives us pleasure otherwise we wouldn't do it anymore you don't do it if you don't have fun so we keep going on we won't die of hunger we can at least produce the food we need for ourselves a piece of meat cheese milk it's just hard to end money but maybe things will improve someday in the future whatever vanish maybe never that small farms still exist in Romania protecting their heritage from investment heavyweights should be the cornerstone of an agricultural policy that is modern and sustainable