The historic provinces of Walachia, Transylvania, Moldavia, Dobruja, and the Banat have distinct soil and climatic conditions that make them suitable for different types of agriculture. The breadbasket of Romania is Walachia, which provides half the annual grain harvest and roughly half the fruit and grapes. Truck farming, especially in the Ilfov Agricultural District surrounding Bucharest, is also important. Despite the fertility of Walachia's soil, yields fluctuate considerably from year to year because of recurrent droughts. Transylvania, which receives more precipitation than Walachia, has poorer soils and more rugged terrain that restricts large-scale mechanized farming. Livestock raising predominates in the mountains, and potatoes and grains are the principal crops in the central basin. Moldavia has generally less fertile soil than Walachia and receives scant rainfall. Its primary crops are corn, wheat, fruit and grapes, and potatoes. The Banat region has a nearly ideal balance of rich chernozem soils and adequate precipitation. Grain, primarily wheat, is the principal crop; fruits and vegetables are also important. Dobruja, a region of generally inadequate rainfall, was becoming agriculturally more important during the 1980s, because much of the marshland in the Danube Delta was being drained and brought under cultivation. The traditional crops of Dobruja are grain, sunflowers, and legumes.
Corn and wheat (predominantly of the winter varieties) occupied nearly two-thirds of all arable land in the 1980s and about 90 percent of all grain lands. Corn, the staple of the peasant diet, was grown on 3.1 million hectares in 1987, while wheat was sown on 2.4 million hectares. Other important grains included barley (560,000 hectares), oats (70,000 hectares), rice (47,000 hectares), and rye (42,000 hectares). Among the major nongrain crops, the most widely grown in 1987 were hay (870,000 hectares), sunflowers (455,000 hectares), potatoes (350,000 hectares), soybeans (350,000 hectares), sugar beets (271,000 hectares), feed roots (70,000 hectares), corn silage (50,000 hectares), and tobacco (35,000 hectares). Wine and table grapes were widely grown, but the best vineyards were in Moldavia. Romania had gained a reputation for fine wines as early as the nineteenth century, and subsequently became one of the major producers of Europe.
Thanks to the increased use of fertilizers and plant-protecting chemicals and the expansion of arable land area through irrigation and drainage, grain output rose steadily from only 5 million tons in 1950 to between 20 and 30 million tons in the 1980s. How much grain was produced in the late 1980s was unclear because official figures had become unreliable. The Romanian government reported a 1987 grain harvest of more than 31.7 million tons, a record amount and far larger than the 1985 harvest of 23 million tons. The United States Department of Agriculture, however, estimated the 1987 harvest at only 18.6 million tons--well below the harvest of 1985.
Prior to the dramatic increase in grain cultivation in the nineteenth century, livestock raising, sheep breeding in particular, was the most important economic activity in the country. But with the diversion of grazing land and a perennial shortage of fodder, livestock raising fell into decline. After a drastic reduction in livestock inventories in World War II, herds were gradually replenished, but the number of horses continued to decline, as agriculture became more mechanized. Cattle were raised throughout the country, particularly in the foothills of the Carpathians. Sheep predominated in the mountainous areas and Dobruja. Pigs, poultry, and rabbits were raised on a wide scale.
Private farmers, who produced a large share of livestock brought to market, operated under dire conditions. The state theoretically was obliged to provide fodder to the livestock breeders it contracted to fatten animals. But fodder and proteinrich mixed feeds were not made available in the necessary quantities, especially in the 1980s, when imports were drastically curtailed.
The numerous rivers emanating from the central mountains, the Danube, the Black Sea coastal waters, and Lake Razelm in the Danube Delta provide rich fishing grounds. The lower Danube supplies roughly 90 percent of the total catch, about 80 percent of which is consumed fresh. In 1985 approximately 260,100 tons were produced, and the 1986 plan called for 380,100 tons. Fish farming was being practiced on an increased scale in the late 1980s, particularly in the Danube Delta, where more than 63,000 hectares were expected to be covered with fish ponds by 1990.
By the mid-1980s, more than 30 percent of the country's 10 million hectares of cropland was irrigated. The remaining 7 million hectares were subject to recurrent and sometimes severe droughts, which were particularly destructive in the southern and eastern regions.
At the same time, large areas of land along the Danube and in its delta were waterlogged, and the government decided to drain much of this marshland and make it arable. The Danube Delta, covering more than 440,000 hectares, was being developed rapidly after 1984. By 1989 some 35,750 hectares had been made arable and large areas of pastureland had been created. By 1990 more than 144,000 hectares of the delta were expected to be useful agricultural land.
Poor crop rotation practices, with corn and wheat sown year after year on the same ground, led to serious depletion of soil nutrients, and supplies of chemical fertilizers were inadequate to restore the lost fertility. In the early 1980s, for example, only thirty-four to thirty-six kilograms of fertilizer were available per acre. Furthermore, much of the best farmland had been severely damaged by prolonged use of outsized machinery, which had compacted the soil, by unsystematic application of agricultural chemicals, and by extensive erosion.
During the first three decades of communist rule, agricultural planners ordered the slaughter of thousands of workhorses, which were to be replaced by more powerful tractors. Indeed, the number of tractors available to agriculture grew from 13,700 in 1950 to 168,000 in 1983. But with the onset of the energy crisis, the regime reversed its policy. A program adopted by the National Council for Agriculture, Food Industry, Forestry, and Water Management in 1986 called for increasing horse inventories by 90,000 head by the end of the decade and reducing the number of tractors in service by nearly one-third. By 1990, according to plans, horse-drawn equipment would perform 18 to 25 percent of all harvesting and virtually all hauling on livestock farms.
Cooperative and state farms were the two primary types of farm organization, although a significant number of small private farms continued to exist in the 1980s. State farms accounted for more than 17 percent and cooperatives nearly 75 percent of all arable land. In 1982 cooperatives employed 2.2 million farmers, while state and private farms employed about 400,000 each.
The formation of state farms, which were intended to be the rural equivalent of socialist industrial enterprises, had begun as early as 1945. These ideologically favored farms received the best lands expropriated in 1949 and during the major collectivization campaign of the 1958-62 period, and they had priority access to machinery, chemicals, and irrigation water. Because of these advantages, state farms reported higher crop yields than did cooperative farms. Like other state enterprises, state farms operated according to the directives of the central government. Workers received a fixed wage in return for their labor on the farm and had no private plot rights. Their incomes in the 1980s approached those of urban workers.
Although cooperative farms owned their land and certain basic equipment, they had little more autonomy than the state farms. Their directors routinely accepted production directives from Bucharest with little objection. The cooperatives were told what crops to grow, how to grow them, and how much to deliver to the state. Many smaller cooperatives were ordered to combine into associations during the 1970s and 1980s to pool their assets. According to a decree issued by the Council of State, cooperative farmers were required to work at least 300 days per year on the cooperative, and they were subject to transfer to other farms or even to construction and lumber work sites if their own cooperative had no work for them. Between 40 and 60 percent of the average cooperative farm income was derived from the sale of products from private plots. Despite this supplementary income, cooperative farmers earned only about 60 percent as much as their counterparts on state farms in the 1980s. Cooperative farmers also had much smaller pension benefits.
As late as 1988 almost 9.5 percent of the country's 15 million hectares of agricultural land remained in private hands. As a rule, this land was located in relatively inaccessible mountainous regions, where use of heavy machinery was impractical. In addition, in 1988 cooperative farms reserved some 922,000 hectares (about 6 percent of all arable land) for private plots, which were cultivated by families working on the cooperatives. These plots averaged 1,500 square meters in area, but in rugged terrain they could be considerably larger. Thus in the late 1980s, the private sector was still cultivating more than 15 percent of the country's agricultural land--the highest total in Eastern Europe after Poland and Yugoslavia. Privately owned land could not be sold, nor could it be inherited by persons unable to tend it adequately.
Even official government statistics revealed that private agriculture was more than four times as productive as socialized agriculture in the cultivation of fruit; twice as productive in grain growing and poultry raising, and 60 percent more efficient in milk, beef, pork, and vegetable production. In 1987 the private sector produced half the sheep, 40 percent of the beef, 28 percent of the pork, and 63 percent of the fruit output.
Despite the higher productivity of private agriculture and its major contribution to total farm output, the Ceausescu regime systematically penalized the nonsocialist sector. At the very time most of the communist world was beginning to permit peasants to lease larger tracts for longer periods, Romania was actually reducing the area under private cultivation--from 967,500 hectares in 1965 to 922,841 in 1985. Beginning in 1987, an area of at least 500 square meters (or one-third) of each private plot was required to be sown in wheat, and the harvest was to be traded to the state for the yield from an equivalent amount of land cultivated by the cooperative farm. This policy was designed to discourage peasants from spending an inordinate amount of time cultivating their private plots instead of working for the cooperative. Its effect, however, was to further demoralize the farm population and thus make it less productive.
In the late 1980s, the systematization program aimed to subordinate privately owned land and private plots on cooperative farms to the regional agro-industrial councils and thereby tighten central control of private farming. Systematization would eliminate many of the plots, as villages were levelled to create vast fields for socialized farming. This policy directly contradicted the government's mandate in the 1980s that the population essentially feed itself by cultivating small plots (even lawns and public parks had been converted to vegetable gardens) and breeding poultry and rabbits.
Romanian agriculture in the late 1980s remained the most centralized in Comecon. A complicated and constantly changing network of overlapping state and party agricultural bureaucracies had evolved over the previous four decades. The Ministry of Agriculture set production targets and oversaw the distribution of resources among the judete. It became the frequent target of Ceausescu's ire and received much of the blame for agriculture's persistent problems. In 1978 the Congress of the Higher Councils of Socialist Agricultural Units and of the Whole Peasantry and its permanent bureau, the National Agricultural Board, were established. The apparent purpose of the new body was to approve and thereby legitimize the PCR's policy directives. The following year a joint party and state agricultural policy-making body was established--the National Council For Agriculture, Food Industry, Forestry, and Water Management. Meeting as frequently as four times a year in plenary session, the council provided a forum for Ceausescu to address thousands of agricultural specialists and functionaries.
In 1979 pursuant to the guidelines of the New Economic and Financial Mechanism enacted the previous year, a network of agroindustrial councils was set up to coordinate the activities of as many as five state and cooperative farms in an area served by a single state machinery station. A Stalinist holdover abandoned in the rest of Eastern Europe, these stations controlled access to tractors and other heavy equipment. In the 1980s the agroindustrial councils gained additional powers to coordinate agricultural production, food processing, research, and agricultural training. After 1980 judet and village people's councils bore responsibility for fulfilling agricultural production targets set in Bucharest. In each judet a General Directorate for Agriculture and Food Industry made assignments to individual state and cooperative farms.
Procurement and Distribution
State farms, like other socialist enterprises after the implementation of the New Economic and Financial Mechanism, were in theory self-financed and self-managed concerns that were expected to earn a profit while delivering assigned quantities of output to the state. In reality, few state farms in the 1980s could turn a profit, because the government's procurement prices were consistently lower than production costs. Cooperatives and private farmers, too, had large state-imposed quotas to fill even before satisfying their own food requirements. A 1984 decree specified the quantity of production to be delivered to the state by farmers. For example, potato growers were required to deliver three tons per hectare of land cultivated, and dairy farmers had to turn over 800 liters of milk per cow. To ensure compliance with the compulsory quotas, Ceausescu reinstituted the Department for Contracting, Acquiring, and Storing Farm Produce, which had been disbanded in 1956. The state was able to hold sway over individual farmers because it controlled the supply of fertilizers, herbicides, machinery, construction materials, and other inputs. To gain access to these materials, the farmer had to sign delivery contracts. Farmers who failed to comply with the delivery quotas even risked losing their land.
Farmers were permitted to keep for their own use any food remaining after their quotas had been filled, and they could sell the surplus at farmers' markets, where prices in the early 1980s were frequently five times the state procurement prices. A law passed in 1983 required peasants to obtain a license to sell their products on the open market, and it imposed a maximum commodity price of 5 percent above the state retail price. Disappointing harvests in the early 1980s convinced the government to raise procurement prices. As a result, peasant incomes rose by some 12 percent between 1980 and 1985, and farm output increased by about 10 percent. Private farmers in the mid-1980s were obliged to sell to the state 30 percent of the milk, 50 percent of the pork, 12 percent of the potatoes, and comparable shares of other commodities they produced.
Throughout the 1980s, a self-sufficiency program, mandated by the PCR, was in effect. Each village and judet was responsible for producing, to the maximum extent possible, the food needed by the local population. In reality the program was another means for procuring agricultural products for export. Nearly all the production from the three types of farms was confiscated by state procurement agencies, which then returned the amount of food the state deemed sufficient to meet the dietary needs of the village and judet. The quantity returned invariably was less than that delivered. The self-sufficiency program in effect reversed the rationalization of the 1970s, when regions specialized in the crops and livestock best suited to local conditions. Thus a portion of the prime grain lands of Walachia had to be diverted to truck farming, while cool, wet regions of Transylvania attempted to grow sunflowers. The self-sufficiency program seriously impeded the distribution of agricultural products among regions and damaged the domestic marketing system.
The party secretary of each judet was responsible for delivering a specified quota of food to the state. Because these individuals reacted in different ways to the countervailing needs of their constituents and the central authorities, there was considerable regional variation in food supplies. Many party secretaries began understating output figures so that less would have to be delivered to Bucharest and more would be available for the people of their judet. Aware of this regional variation, citizens made food-hunting forays into other judete hoping to find stores better stocked. Ceausescu ordered the militia to monitor the highways and railroads to prevent "illegal" food trafficking.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Processing itself was torn between a sense of responsibility to safeguard the interests of the agricultural sector and its obligation to fulfill the regime's mandate to maximize procurement. To resolve these conflicting loyalties, in February 1986 a separate Ministry of Food Industry and Procurement was established.
Although gross agricultural output had been increasing at a rate four times higher than population growth between 1950 and 1980, food availability remained inadequate. In 1981 rationing was imposed for the first time since 1953, and it remained in effect throughout the decade, as the regime exported as much as possible to pay off the foreign debt. In 1985 the average citizen was eligible to receive 54.88 kilograms of meat and fish, 1.1 kilograms of margarine, 9.6 kilograms of cooking oil, 14.8 kilograms of sugar, 114.5 kilograms of flour, 45.3 kilograms of potatoes, 20 kilograms of fruit, and 114 eggs per year. In reality, most Romanians were unable to obtain even these scant rations, as the situation deteriorated even further in following years. The food supply program of 1988 enacted by the GNA provided for an annual per capita consumption of 38 liters of milk, 3.5 kilograms of cheese, 1.5 kilograms of butter, 128 eggs, 21 kilograms of sweets, 3.6 kilograms of rice, 500 grams of oatmeal, and 22 kilograms of cornmeal.
Reliable statistics on food consumption were not available during the 1980s. Comecon statistical reports omitted Romanian data after 1981. Romania's own statistical yearbooks stopped reporting figures for consumption of food and many other commodities, including clothing, appliances, automobiles, and bicycles. Ceausescu claimed in November 1988 that the daily per capita calorie intake of Romanians was 3,200 calories, which he termed excessive. He promised to improve food supplies in 1988 by slaughtering 8 million sheep and between 7.5 and 12.5 million hogs- -an unlikely proposal considering that the entire national inventory included only 18.6 million sheep and 14.3 million hogs.
|Country Studies main page | Romania Country Studies main page|