This post originally appeared on the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC’s) Poverty Reduction Blog. As part of Feed the Future, MCC supports country-led requests for agriculture and food security-related investments through compacts that support irrigation, infrastructure, agricultural finance, nutrition and many other areas.
How do you revive an agricultural sector that is still trying to function as part of a decades-old collapsed system? MCC is trying to do just that in Moldova, a country once dubbed the “orchard of the Soviet Union.”
Following the fall of communism, Moldova’s vast orchards and vineyards were privatized into thousands of tiny plots. The centralized irrigation systems soon failed, and farmers transitioned to low-value rain-fed grain crops. The farmers who continue to grow fruits and vegetables often ship them unsorted, in bulk and in open trucks to the low-quality Russian wholesale markets—the same way they’ve been doing for decades.
These practices ultimately lead to lower prices for Moldovan farmers, who are struggling to compete in regional markets against firms from neighboring countries that employ improved practices and offer higher-quality products.
To tackle this problem, MCC and USAID partnered on a jointly-funded five-year program to target specific weak links in agricultural value chains. For example, programs trained growers of high-value crops in quality-improving practices, helped Moldovan sanitary/phytosanitary control offices more efficiently certify produce destined for export, linked exporters with buyers through international trade fairs, and developed a national brand for Moldovan produce.
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe; its five-year, $262 million compact invests irrigation reconstruction, access to agricultural finance, and the rehabilitation of an integral section of the country’s national road network—all with the aim of allowing Moldova to become more regionally competitive.
The challenge is bringing an outdated sector up to speed fast enough to recapture some of the market share Moldova lost in recent years to Poland and other regional neighbors. While there’s a risk that Moldova’s prominence in European markets can never be regained, Moldovans believe differently and are leveraging their MCC partnership to give their little country—withits rich soil, perched between eastern Europe and the European Union—the nudge it needs to climb back onto the world fruit and vegetable stage.
Read MCC’s full Knowledge and Innovation Network Journal issue on “Local Food Security, Global Markets” (pdf).