Until the Iron Curtain was lifted in 1989, Romanian farms were government owned and run as collectives. While cooperatives were based on group work and shared benefits, membership was forced. After the collapse of the communist regime, farmland was returned to its original owners and soon collectives began to reappear; this time, collectives were characterized with an autonomous, democratic model where farmers gained control of their livelihoods.
In 1991, in the small Romanian village of Cornesti, Transylvania, farmers came together. They planned to work again as a collective, but with a significantly different outlook than before. Many farmers had spent years working in state-run collective farms, where workers received a standard pay, worked together on one large plot of land yet had no choice in their work and no say in farming operations.
Today, members of Oikocredits partner Agricultural Company Cornesti maintain their own fields. Each member has one vote on major cooperative decisions, while seven elected individuals make up the cooperatives board. The cooperative covers 845 hectares of farmland, all of which is privately owned by members while the assets of the cooperative are common property.
Since its beginnings, the cooperative has built up a solid member base of 500 people and almost all of those members are from Cornesti; a town with a population of less than 1,500 people.
One of those members is 80 year old farmer Alexanaruc Palfi. Mr Palfi tends to the animals and crops on his land himself; his primary crop being corn. Other cooperative members produce wheat, maize, barley, soy and sugar beet for both the members and for sale, while oats, potatoes and lucerne (also called alfalfa) are produced exclusively for members. In future, the cooperative aims to have enough capital to build silos to store their produce to sell when the market is most in the farmers favour.
Traditional means of financing have been out of reach for Agricultural Company Cornesti, meaning Oikocredits loans have enabled the cooperative to buy much needed farm equipment to improve working conditions and productivity on the Cornesti farms.
This cooperative has been an Oikocredit project partner since 2005 when it received a loan of 155,000, followed by a second loan of 300,000 in 2008 to purchase farming equipment. As a cooperative itself, Oikocredit recognizes the impressive capacity cooperatives such as Agricultural Company Cornesti have for supporting entire communities. Oikocredit has partnered with 288 cooperatives around the world to support market access, economic growth and social services in developing countries.