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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Common pastures in Transylvania (Romania) – or maybe not so common anymore?


Pasture in Southern Transylvania, Romania

Over the past two years, I have talked to many livestock owners (many consider themselves more ‘householders’ – gospodari in Romanian – than farmers), as well as people from public administration and nature conservation, about the use of common grazing land in Southern Transylvania. This type of land use stretches back over centuries (the area was historically inhabited by the Transylvanian Saxons, about which previous posts in this blog have been written), and in each village institutions have built up to govern common grazing. A (very) rough estimate suggests that currently, at least half of permanent pasture in Romania is communally owned and used, and in the Târnava Mare region where I work private ownership of grazing land is practically unknown. At least, that is what appears to be the case at first glance.

Of course the story is complicated by many factors, but a major influence on the recent use patterns of common land has been the introduction of EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies per hectare in 2007. Instead of the previous situation of all villagers sending their animals to the pasture in the village herd, people now have an incentive (subsidy money) to rent as large an area of communal pasture from the local authorities as they can, for as long as they can. Although the stipulations attached to the EU subsidies have in many cases meant that management of the pasture has improved from a biodiversity point of view relative to 10 or 15 years ago, quasi-private use of certain areas appears to be leading to overgrazing in some parts, and abandonment in others.  From a social point of view, competition for the money – and thus corruption – mean that under this system it is again the small farmers who lose out. Not owning enough animals themselves to rent pasture, and rarely organized enough to fight for the subsidies for the land that they graze, the playing field has been tipped against them.

Whilst the Enclosures forcibly and relatively rapidly privatized common land in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, it seems like market forces and subsidies are doing the same in Eastern Europe by stealth. Whether this is a positive or negative development for rural areas in Romania is debatable: in my opinion it will largely depend on how local farmers – and gospodari – self-organise and cooperate in the future to use their common pastures.

Reference

SUTCLIFFE, L., PAULINI, I., JONES, G., MARGGRAF, R., PAGE, N.. Pastoral commons use in Romania and the role of the Common Agricultural Policy. International Journal of the Commons http://www.thecommonsjournal.org/index.php/ijc/article/view/367/313 (OPEN ACCESS)

Laura Sutcliffe: Institute for Plant Sciences, University of Göttingen, Germany sutcliffe.laura@gmail.com

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