Malki Lom is an agricultural cooperative in Sadina, a village with 1,000 inhabitants in Northern Bulgaria. The cooperative, named after the nearby river, was established in 1993, at a time when no bank was willing to provide it with funding. The situation improved in 2000 when Tihomir Todorov was elected chairman. In 2002 Malki Lom secured its first Oikocredit loan. Today Oikocredit remains cooperative’s sole financier.

In May 2012 Oikocredit Study Tour participants travelled to Bulgaria and spoke with Tihomir Todorov, chairman of Agricultural Cooperative Malki Lom.

What was the situation when you took over as chairman?

‘When I started, no bank wanted to give us financial support and we needed access to financial sources to renew our machinery. Banks considered – and often still consider – the agricultural sector as too risky and not well enough developed. Our old machinery was not accepted as collateral. On top of this, at that time the prices were very low.’

Although Oikocredit is currently not financing Malki Lom, you are still in close contact with the Oikocredit team. How is the cooperative doing, financially?

‘We are financially stable, thanks to high yields and high prices in 2010 and 2011. Our management team is working smoothly together and, for the time being, we need no further financing. However, agriculture heavily depends on the weather and if 2012 will not be a good year, we might need to ask Oikocredit for additional financing.’

What community developments has the cooperative initiated for Sadina?

‘The cooperative runs a pensioner’s club and a library. We sell bread with discount to our members and we coordinate the only four shops in the village. Further, we support local infrastructure projects and are strict when it comes to water and soil preservation. Of the 1,000 inhabitants, only around 90 belong to the working population and Malki Lom employs almost half of them. Many staff are single and the men are finding it hard to find a partner. Most women go to the cities to seek a different life, which contributes to the ageing of the village. Our kindergarten had to close its doors in May this year because there are simply not enough new children.’

How do you see the future for the village and the cooperative?

‘Before, when Sadina was not so abandoned as now (around 300 of the 800 houses have been abandoned) there were a lot of activities throughout the year in which all inhabitants participated. Today, the cooperative still takes the lead in organizing the yearly big festival that attracts people from the surrounding villages. But I am an optimistic person and I am sure that people will return to the villages, after having lived in the city, craving to get back to the more relaxed village life.’

Bulgaria’s unique cooperative model:

The traditional agricultural cooperative model sees cooperatives providing marketing and production services to farmers who cultivate their land individually. But in Bulgaria, agricultural cooperatives rent land from small landowners, cultivate it, collect the yield and sell the produce. They then pay members rent and dividends. For many elderly landowners, these cooperatives provide vital income to supplement a pension of around 70 euros a month.