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April 12, 2021

The warning of wheat

The successive economic and financial crises, the pollution caused by excessive industrialisation, the climate changes and the rapid increase of population made reputed experts from all over the world anticipate that the big problem and concern of this century will be the development of agriculture. The conceptual mutation ‘per se’ somehow reminds of the successive literary clashes of past centuries, when the adepts of homogenous artistic structures, discontent over the new art currents resorted to the ‘back to Shakespeare’ imperative. Shakespeare was the reference point of perennial artistic value, and the pathos put in evoking him as the quintessence of literature will always be an admirable incentive of general development. Based on this eminently international example, will today’s increasingly frequent appeal to the development of agriculture have the same beneficial effect upon the Romanian society as a whole?

The answer might be affirmative, we believe, as long as the emphasis laid upon agricultural development will not lead to discriminating other activity sectors and, instead, will range within a well-balanced structure of priorities, without irrationally jumping from one pole to another. Unfortunately, it is precisely such irrational and discriminatory moves that are encountered in Romania today, in a year blessed by a good output of wheat: about 7.2 million tons of wheat, of a better quality than the wheat grown in many other regions of the world. This is a good crop, compared to average of the previous years (some 5.2-5.2 million tons), but we should keep in mind that Romania – though it consumes only 3 million tons – could produce over 15 million tons of wheat each year, living to its past reputation of “Europe’s granary.” But, in order to achieve such an output, which could feed 80 million people and defy any food crisis of the future, the current policy of social, agricultural and administrative economy of the Romanian state must be substantially improved.

First, we must end the practice of removing each year more than 2 million hectares of arable land from the agricultural circuit. Yes, this shameful practice, without precedent in Romanian history for the last 150 years, is today increasingly damaging in economic and social terms. The reasons for this situation is the migration of young generations from rural to urban areas, the economic inability of old people to cultivate their land, the low support granted by the state to the setup and optimal functioning of agricultural cooperatives. Another reason is the endemic poverty that forces villagers to sell their family farms, up to a total equivalent of more than 6 million hectares, to all kind of “entrepreneurs.” Their activity resulted in more than 1 million hectares being removed from the agricultural circuit during the last 20 years, and were turned into construction plots for urban buildings that have nothing to do, even hamper any economic growth with national impact. The same category of people that undermine Romanian agriculture includes the so-called “foreign strategic investors” attracted to Romania by the so-called low price of farmland, who buy thousands of hectares which they usually leave fallow, waiting for a speculative sale.

In the current global conditions, agriculture can be the antidote to any economic crisis. The first prerequisite is the wisdom of those that practice or speculate it, a wisdom that relies precisely on visionary spirit and social solidarity. Unfortunately, these very traits are missing in Romania today. The fate of this year’s good wheat crop is a painful proof of this drawback. Small agricultural producers sell their wheat at the derisory price of 0.4-0.5 RON/kg to wholesalers, which promptly export the wheat it at a much lower price than it could fetch next spring, thus prejudicing the whole economy. Such premature and uncontrolled exports result in a rapid waste of the national output, subsequently forcing massive wheat imports at much higher prices, to feed the population. This explains the fact that, between March and May, the price of bread goes up each year, without going down from July to September, when the new crop is harvested, but also rapidly wasted.

With things being as bad, the responsibility of the state is huge and cannot be attenuated by the law of demand and offer, often evoked by irresponsible ministers. Like any modern state of the EU, Romania must permanently maintain a strategic wheat stock equivalent to at least one year of national bread consumption. A state incapable of ensuring its security is a ghost state. Real security means the capacity of the military, but also economic defense, with food security being an essential condition. Regardless of its military strength, a state threatened by famine is at risk of collapse. For the last seven decades, we built – with much financial effort – huge underground and ground-level warehouses to store a strategic supply of wheat. Today, these silos have disappeared from the economic circuit, through an abusive, fraudulent and antinational privatisation. Who will answer for these thefts? Why are culprits allowed to go unpunished?

The answer to these questions relates to the fact that the real power in the Romanian state is held neither by the Parliament, nor by the Government or Presidency. The real power belongs to the bosses of local mobs that only act in their own interest, blatantly infringing any law. Their discretionary power is so big that they don’t even hide their identities. They act in the open, against the law, but also against their own future and that of their children, here in the country. In the eventuality of drastic measures taken against them here, many of these speculators have substantial secret accounts in foreign banks, which allow them to relocate their “businesses” abroad, where they already gathered valuable assets. These “occult” canals are used to drain the wealth of the country, agricultural wealth included, turning Romania into the poorest state of the EU. Romanians are thus seen as the “guinea pigs” of the harshest austerity measures “planned” by the government to last until 2014.

In Romania, bread is a basic product, seen as “the poor man’s food” – a state of fact illustrated by the saying about “taking the bread out of someone’s mouth.” There was no coincidence that the most important peasant uprising of 20th Century’s Europe took place in Romania, in 1907. When our rulers are confronted by this painful possibility, their hopes of salvation do not rely upon optimal measures of food security, but on the “wisdom” of trade union leaders. This “wisdom” derives from the fact that many of these leaders have become… wealthy employers. The migration is real, but the hopes it may bring to authorities are uncertain. I.L. Caragiale’s famous pamphlet “1907 – From Spring till Autumn” is a warning, even today, about the fact that such hopes prove to be mere sandcastles.

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