Support independent journalism in Central & Eastern Europe.
Donate to TOL!
After years of living and working abroad, can homeward-bound Moldovans make their entrepreneurial dreams come true? From Ziarul de Garda.by Liliya Zakharia 22 February 2017
Meet our main characters — Rodica and Vasile Chisca. Both worked in Italy for more than 10 years, and invested the money earned there in a modern plum garden in their homeland Moldova.
“Do you see the hill over there? My dream is to build a small factory there to dry fruit, and a distillery,” says Rodica pointing off into the distance. She and her husband know only too well the difficulties of starting and running their own agricultural business. However, they are keen to make their dream come true.
Ten Years and a Piece of Land
The story of Rodica and her husband is similar to those of many Moldovans who decided to leave the country and go abroad in search of a better life. He first left even before they were married. At the time, Rodica was a student in Chisinau, but later on she decided to follow Vasile. “I still feel the broom my mother hit me with when I announced that I planned to leave,” Rodica recalls with a smile. She left but didn’t drop out of school, simply transferring to a distance-learning program. In Italy, she worked and completed her studies assignments simultaneously. “It was difficult but I didn’t give up. I wanted to study, wanted to learn as much as I could,” she says.
Meanwhile the Chisca family expanded. They had two sons. Several years ago they decided to invest all their money into agriculture back home. Today, the family owns a plum garden, 55 square meters (592 square feet) of land close to the city of Hincesti, southwest of Chisinau.
“My brother is the heart of this garden,” says Rodica. “He is an agricultural engineer and spends his time from dusk till dawn here. During the day he works on a tractor and in the evening on his computer. He studies how to look after plum trees. I am in charge of administrative tasks.”
Cultivating Your Own Garden
Up until now the family has invested around 25,000 euros($26,300) into their business. They used this money to buy land and equipment. Their garden is the only one in the area with a modern irrigation system that directly waters the roots of the trees.
Rodica credits the Pare 1+1 program, a government initiative designed to encourage migrant workers and their relatives to invest remittances into small and medium-sized businesses back home. Through the program, she obtained 200,000 lei (9,500 euros), and the couple received an additional 100,000 lei in subsidies. In total, they invested 30,000 euros into the irrigation system.
“All the land that you see around was fallow, completely overgrown with weeds,” Rodica says. “We planned from the beginning to use European technology. Therefore, I and we google said “I”attended training courses and workshops in Italy. We even invited Italian experts here. We were thinking together with them: how can we use new technologies to set up a garden when we had no water at all?”hen we were designing the garden, we had no water at all translation was also different here, is this correct?. Then, we decided to create a reservoir and install this irrigation system. Thank God, we have water now.”
All the same, she clarified that in 2016 part of the garden hasd suffered from flooding in the middle of the summer. "When were thethere were heavy rains, everything wais flooded - – you can see that part of the garden with withered trees?", she said, pointing at a few trees with no leaves.
Though Rodica and Vasile left Italy a while ago, they have not forgotten the country where they spent such a long time. Every year they visit Italy to attend the biggest agricultural fair to check out the newest machines and technologies. They want to follow the latest trends.
Their children still live in Italy and continue to study there. “It was not an easy decision but we had to do it,” says Vasile. “We invested the better part of our money into land on the outskirts of the city. Neither in Italy nor elsewhere will you earn enough if you don’t work enough. We sacrificed a lot already and we continue to do so. We do not own a house and live with our parents.”
Corruption and Bureaucracy
At first the couple had grand plans and wanted to buy a bigger plot. However Moldova’s bureaucracy and the corruption they encountered in state offices have lowered their expectations and provided a reality check. The main lesson they learned? “You have to pay bribes everywhere. And when they find out that you lived in Italy, they demand 100 euros instead of 100 lei,” explains Vasile.
The Italian “link” created problems for them on other levels too. “For a Moldovan, who lives and works in Moldova, one hectare of land costs 1,000 euros. When the seller finds out that you lived and worked abroad, the price doubles,” says Rodica, echoing her husband.
In 2016, the trees bore their first harvest. “Our children helped us collect the fruit, and that was an historic event for us. You need to put a lot of work into the harvest. We put in honest work; we bought land with our own money. A factory - she refers to it as a “roofed pavilion to sort and process fruit” - it can be translated as a factory probably – but I agree it can be also translated in the original form to sort and process the fruit would look perfect on that hill,” sighs Rodica, imagining a time when their dried fruit, jams, and plum brandy will grace European tables.
Today the biggest problem the farmers face is selling their products. “We bought seeds at home and abroad and planted the trees. But now we aren’t sure we can sell what we produce. However, we are optimistic. We want to sell plums in big quantities,” Vasile and Rodica say at the end of our visit.
However, some official news might disappoint the Chisca family, as well as many young farmers who depend on state subsidies to develop their businesses. Last year, the government of Moldova decided to reduce subsidies for farmers from the originally planned 900 million to 200 million lei.
Help Hicham Mansouri via our crowdfunding initiative! @hichamansouri spent months in a Moroccan prison. #AmnestyInternational calls him Prisoner of thought. Please donate or spread the word!
The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.
This innovative approach to story telling gives voice to ordinary people and takes the reader on the virtual trip across Moldovan rural and urban landscapes.
It is a unique and intimate map of the nation.