Moldovan organic almonds find their way to European tables
“Almonds are one of the world’s most nutritious foods,” we learn as we nibble on some of the delicacies such as green almond pesto prepared by Tamara Schiopu, a cook, nutrition specialist, and the organizer of the picnic at an organic farm in the south of Moldova. It´s a hot August day and a group of people brought, especially for this occasion, by a minibus from the capital Kishinev have just sat down on colorful blankets in the shade of the surrounding nut trees.
The farm picnics organized regularly in different parts of the country aimed to connect consumers and organic producers, have become a popular event in recent years. Especially the urban middle class seems to be more and more concerned about healthy nutrition and is also able to afford to pay a premium for better quality. At the picnic, visitors get to hear the story of their food from the farmer and they can buy the products almost directly from the field.
Tamara, who is the driving force behind these events together with her company EtnoGastronomica has become a helpful partner to People in Need, who is aiming to increase the awareness of organic agriculture in Moldova with the support of the Czech Development Agency and USAID. Even though Tamara has actually lived in the United Kingdom for many years, she regularly comes back to her home country and supports the development of the organic sector with the skills and expertise she gained in the UK as a farmer and small-scale food producer.
Tanya and Igor: the almond farmers
The almond farm we are visiting belongs to Tanya and Igor, a young couple who was also considering emigrating from Moldova with their children some years ago when they got the opportunity to buy some land close to their native village. “The land is the only thing that still keeps us in Moldova. This farm is like a little baby to us – we want to see it grow,” says Igor and adds that the outflow of young people abroad is one of the biggest problems Moldova is facing now.
Even though their farm is more than a two-hour drive, Tanya and Igor still live in Kishinev. So far, they cannot imagine living back in the village and you can see why – the house of Igor´s parents is the last inhabited one on the street. After the local winery closed down in 2007, because of the Russian embargo on wine imports from Moldova, the village has become a ghost town. “For young people like us who also want the best for their children, this place has absolutely nothing to offer. This is why we became remote-farmers and we come down to the farm as much as we can,” adds Igor.
The dessert at the picnic is made and served by the farmer herself - the marzipan is one Tanya´s best products she says, but everyone agrees that the almond cookies ‘ala cantucci’ taste splendid as well. Apart from taking care of the orchards, she also likes to experiment with processing the almonds into various products – so far only for family, friends, and visitors.
When passing by the farm again, in late autumn, it turns out that the harvest was just about the average this year. The area where the farm is located was hit by a storm some days after our summer picnic so many of the nuts were lost to the ground.
This time, Tanya takes us to a simple storage hall from corrugated iron, whose construction was supported by People in Need one year ago. The nut harvest is stored here now, waiting to be cracked and sold to potential customers. “Before we constructed the storage, we used to dry the almonds in our parents´ house. As you can imagine, when the season came the nuts were just everywhere: in the attic, in the bathroom, around and under the bed. Simply crazy,” Tamara laughs.
People in Need, together with the Czech Development Agency and USAID, regularly support small-holder farmers interested in conversion to organic production with small grants in order to boost their business especially in its beginnings. Apart from Tanya and her husband´s almond business, People in Need awarded several other grants to a sheep cheese maker, aroma producer, and an organic grocery store.
Almonds: a lucrative niche market in Europe
Growing organic almonds seems to be a good idea – there is a high demand in Moldova and a chronic lack of any type of nuts in Europe. With its largest market in the world for edible nuts (more than 40 % of total world imports) European Union does present growers with an interesting export opportunity.
Tanya’s and Igor’s almond production, however, is not yet ready for export. Officially, the farm is still in the conversion period. “We will receive our organic certificate in about one year - only then we can start selling with the internationally recognized organic label. Also, the production is not yet sufficient – we can easily sell everything we have locally. So far, we sell mainly at Moldovan agriculture and food exhibitions - we sell a kilo of de-shelled nuts for about 10 euros,” says the couple.
People in Need together with the Czech Development Agency and USAID will continue to support promising business ideas of organic farmers and entrepreneurs with the vision to develop the organic market in Moldova.