Living Lab: Small farmers receive better fiscal information in a confusing informational landscape

Giurgiu County, Romania

Giurgiu County, Romania

The aim of the Romanian Living Lab is to develop innovative support services and tools that improve access to reliable, timely [financial & marketing] information for small scale Romanian farmers, cooperatives and Local Action Groups (LAGs) in Romania.

PROAKIS findings saying that Romania has a weak and fragmented Farm Advisory System. The farmers find it hard to navigate among the ever-changing legislation and market conditions.

Much of the dysfunctionalities within the sector, like low productivity, little investment and European funds absorption relate to this lack of proper guidance. Therefore, the extension services have virtually disappeared together with the public institution. However, during the interviews, all the stakeholders shared a sense of urgency and desire to improve things in their field.

Vărăști Cooperative is located in Giurgiu County, 30km from Bucharest, the capital city of Romania (with around 2million inhabitants) and therefore also the country’s biggest consumer market. The community is rapidly developing, pushed by a private actor: Carrefour Hypermarket. With cooperative membership growing from by 25% within its first year, Vărăști cooperative is now sourcing fresh produce to other regions of Romania (some over 300km away).

In the absence of a functional advisory services system, farmers, mostly small ones (the great majority of them being less than 1 ha), are feeling the urgency to push for changing and adapting to their more specific needs, the legal financial procedures and to get more practical information for marketing activities and better access and position themselves on the market. Due to these rapid developments, the cooperative is struggling to keep up with growing administrative burdens, complexity and changing financial legislation.Theme and target groupMethods and tools to connect advisers (financial and marketing) to small farmers and build an efficient two ways regular communication

In Giurgiu, we work with a cooperative of vegetable producers of about 150 members facing rapid development and some relevant advisors. The cooperative was chosen as main end-user due to both its high development potential as an agricultural business, as well as its urgent need for advisory services focused on marketing and financial services.

They are currently sourcing to Carrefour Supermarket, the second biggest Romanian supermarket retailer in Romania. Carrefour was instrumental in the establishment of the cooperative and currently is its only customer, reportedly supplying 37% of the supermarket’s fresh produce in 2017. Nevertheless, while cooperative membership increased by 25% within its first year of activity, the cooperative is struggling to keep up with the increased administrative burdens, ongoing changing financial legislation, and uptake of entrepreneurial skills.

Farmers themselves are also feeling the urgent need to adopt legal financial procedures and to get more practical information for marketing activities. Therefore, the first iteration of the Romanian Living Lab focused on connecting 60 of the Vărăști cooperative members with appropriate advisers in order to co-create knowledge tools regarding financial matters and marketing.

For the second iteration of the Romanian Living Lab we hope to replicate these sessions in a different region of Romania, in Brasov country, with other types of farmer organizations (Local Action Groups, meat/dairly/cattle farming cooperatives) and with the hope to extend the guide based on their experiences to support their integration into regional tourism based short supply chains.

Our vision is to eventually replicate and disseminate these results at a national level, using a network of multipliers who already work closely with small farms.

Aim of the Living Lab

The aim of the Romanian Living Lab is to develop innovative support services and tools that improve access to reliable, timely [financial & marketing] information for small scale Romanian farmers, cooperatives and Local Action Groups (LAGs) in Romania

Partner and responsible person contact

Highclere Consulting (HCC)

Raluca Barbu, raluca@highclere-consulting.com

Highclere Consulting has a vast experience in working with the farmers and rural areas. Especially in the Giurgiu region, Highclere Consulting has conducted research for the H2020 SALSA project between 2016-2018. Knowing the area well, it was decided that the Vărăști community was suitable for implementing the AgriLink Living Lab concept, with the aim to solve a very important problem of the farmers: connecting them to advisors and establishing new tools for financial and marketing activities, to improve their production and life.


The Living Lab story

The financial guide is a very useful instrument for small farmers. The best part about it is that it was elaborated and tested together with the farmers, using participatory methods, several meetings and feedback sessions.

As a result, over 75% of the trained farmers submitted their annual fiscal declarations, ensuring their participation on the market, through the cooperative.

We are eager to replicate this tool for meat/ dairy farmers and tourism services providers, at the national level.

We decided by the end of 2018 to work with the farmers from ”Carrefour- Vărăști” cooperative of vegetable producers of about 100 members, facing rapid development. We started thorough needs assessment conducted in Vărăști community at the beginning 2018 and we start to assist them on two particular subjects critical for their positive evolution.

First, we provided support in order to get through new financial challenges for consolidating their activity and economic position as a production cooperative. Secondly, we help increase their marketing knowledge to become more competitive and to fulfill the terms of cooperation with their retail partners as efficiently and professionally as possible.

All of our meetings were held in their community and helped them to discuss openly their challenges relate to managing the financial aspect of their business. As a result of the common work conducted by the HCC team, the farmers and the financial advisers, we elaborated in 2019 a financial guide, customized for the specific needs of the vegetable producers.

We base this work on extensive research showing these challenges are quite common throughout agricultural Romania. So, we have inquired among potential multiplicators (LAGs, network of cooperatives etc) if the outcomes of this Lab is found being useful and replicable in other parts of the country. Supporting this, we want to adapt the financial guide to farmers that have cattle (meat or dairy products) and tourism services.

The novelty is the co-creative format through we deliver this project, as we filled in the gap generated by the dismantled former state extension services system, by multi-stakeholder engagement and co-creating the information and knowledge support (guideline). We stress on peer-to-peer interaction, expert support and fast access to necessary information.

Lessons learned

1Access to clear information: Small farms require clear information, delivered in simple language, as well as the possibility to discuss questions with advisers without the fear of being penalized for asking questions regarding the challenges they face.

2Association and involvement: Organized in cooperatives, small farmers can be more easily involved in innovative advisory services, and once they sense the usefulness of the information received, they also become willing to pay for these services.

More info about the Romanian Living Lab

Practice Abstract 9 – Problem analysis in Living Lab: What is the value of an advisory service? – the case of a vegetable growers’ cooperative in Romania (Highclere Consulting)

Articles about Living Lab on HCC website:

Articles about Living Lab on AgriLink websites: