How a Young Moldovan Entrepreneur Went from Banking to the Business of Organics
She never thought she would work the land with so much passion. Svetlana Nițoreanu graduated from two faculties – psychology and finance – and worked in banking for many years. However, one day, she decided to make a change. It all started in 2015, when Svetlana established her agriculture company and planted a hazelnut orchard on an area of ten hectares in the village of Grigorievca, Căușeni district, Moldova.
Her first steps in the world of agriculture were quite cautious. She didn’t have a female role-model with a successful business in agriculture to by inspired by or learn from. Instead, her inspiration for farming, and specifically organic farming, came after visiting the Biofach exhibition in Germany. After the exhibition, she set about this new path and began applying the principles of organic farming in her orchard. Last year, Svetlana harvested a handful of hazelnuts but the 2018 harvest, though still not large, will have organic certification. ‘In Moldova, we do not have the habit of eating organic products. We will get there in a few years. Just in time for the orchard to provide a full harvest and I’ll be able to cover the market demand’, says Svetlana.
The young entrepreneur knows every hazel tree and every acre of the orchard and works tirelessly on them alongside her employees. She has recently adopted new farming methods and this year some of the works will be mechanized. Svetlana has also been keeping an eye out for opportunities launched by donors for farmers who engage in organic production. Thanks to the USAID-funded Project – ‘Export-Led Development of Organic Agriculture in Moldova’, implemented by People in Need Moldova – Svetlana received a grant to purchase an irrigation system and hazelnut peeling and calibration equipment. This proved an additional incentive for her to expand the business.
Besides the orchard, she has now set up a nursery for hazelnut seedlings. The company she owns is certified as a planting material producer and, in 2017, the young entrepreneur profited from her first sale of about five thousand seedlings. The next step for Svetlana is the organic certification of seedlings, which she will manage in two years. For the time being, the seedlings are propagated in the orchard; in the fall, they are planted in the nursery, but in a few years, when the nursery hazelnut trees grow they will produce new seedlings.
Svetlana sees the orchard as a long-term investment and business, as well as an experience that brings joys and challenges. Building a warehouse with a processing and storing department is a challenge, and she relies greatly on her husband’s support. At the same time, she is confident of the potential of the business and invests as much as possible in developing her own skills. The young entrepreneur attends business negotiation and English language courses to help her communicate with future partners.
‘The farmers who have decided to plant hazelnut trees are rather partners for me and not competitors. The domestic market consumption can be easily covered, so the excess is to be exported anyway. And in order to meet export demands, we should join our forces’. Svetlana is right, because importers from Europe have confirmed the high demand for hazelnuts on the international market, while importers from Turkey and Italy expressed interest in hazelnuts grown in Moldova.
Svetlana has a clear vision of what her business will look like in five years. The modern and well-equipped warehouse will be full of hazelnuts. The orchard will be about 2-3 hectares larger than it is now, an ideal size for Svetlana, allowing her to work steadily whilst also having time to enjoy life. Svetlana is targeting the European market and is confident that she can have access to foreign consumers in five years’ time. Being ambitious, she also wants to make finished, packaged products, depending on market demands.
Although the career change seemed unbelievable in 2015, Svetlana confirms: ‘I’m not sorry to have taken this step. I’m much more motivated to act now’. She encourages women to start their businesses and would advise them not to be afraid, to think through and carefully plan their business idea, and find the niche to work in. Svetlana describes how seeing the first results of your efforts gives you wings and makes you aspire for more. She is convinced that the support of USAID and People in Need Moldova has played an important role in her business and is looking forward to seeing more local organic products in consumers’ meals at home and abroad.