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News 22 Mar 16

Romania Targets Billions on Reviving Countryside

The Romanian government is to spend billions of euros on improving life and business opportunities in long neglected smaller towns and villages.

Cristina Bucureasa and Marian Chiriac
Romania's countryside is very scenic, but many people still live in poverty there | Photo: BIRN

Only a smidgen of satisfaction is seen on Mariana Achim’s face, as at least she has a job and the possibility to feed her family.

Achim works as waitress in a restaurant, some ten kilometers away from her house in Cartisoara, a village in southern Transylvania.

"Apart from a few family-run business, like three small grocery stores or the night club, there is no possibility here to find work. Most people just earn a living working their land,” the 41-year-old says.

Achim is one of the 4.6 million people, or 53.8 per cent of the Romanians living in the countryside, who have a job.

Another 4.2 million are "economically inactive”, as statistics say, while 4 per cent of them are officially registered as unemployed.

Almost half of Romania's 19.5 million people still live in rural areas.

Back in Avrig, Achim hopes the situation will improve at least for her children. "My husband works only occasionally, and for two or three months a year goes abroad to find a job in construction. We need the money mainly to keep our two sons at school,” says the woman.

"All the efforts we make are for the children to have the opportunity to live in a city and not to come back here,” she adds.

While the Romanian countryside is a wonderful asset in terms of scenery, many people living there endure poverty, often without basic facilities, and with only poor access to education and health services.

“The income in 66.1 per cent of rural households is not sufficient for everyday living. One in eight children in Romanian villages sometimes or always goes hungry to bed,” a report by World Vision, “Children's Welfare in Rural Areas,” reads.

On Monday, the government of Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos launched a program to revive the country’s villages, with most of the money to be spent on helping young farmers and small entrepreneurs.

“Developing the middle class in rural areas should be one of our objectives for the coming period; a middle class with real skills of entrepreneurship, beginning with agriculture and the agri-food sector... to constitute a viable and lasting resource for local development,” Ciolos said.

Last May, the European Commission approved a Rural Development Programme for Romania, RDP, aimed at improving the competitiveness of the farming sector, caring for the countryside and climate, and strengthening the economic and social fabric of rural communities by 2020.

The programme is to be funded with some 9.5 billion euro, 8.1 billion of which will come from the EU budget.

Modernization of some 3,400 farms and cooperatives, support for young farmers starting up, sustainable land management and improved broadband infrastructures are among the priorities.

The programme will also include payments to support biodiversity and promote environmentally-friendly land and for setting up and developing 3,000 non-agricultural businesses in rural areas.

Despite the number of people still living in countryside, Romania’s agriculture has long lacked investment, while other problems include the fragmentation of holdings, property-related lawsuits, obsolete technology and the flight of young people to urban areas.

Ironically, agricultural land is not seen as an asset by most Romanians, who tend to consider agriculture a thing of the past.

As many as 1.3 million hectares of arable land lie unused in Romania, according to statistics. The total agricultural surface in Romania is 14.7 million hectares, of which 9.3 million hectares are arable.

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