Who will work the land in the future in the traditional rural landscapes of Romania?

by Tibor Hartel

We recently run 15 scenario building workshops in the Saxon area of Transylvania (Romania). In a nutshell, these rural societies still manage their lands in largely traditional way. The soils are fertile and ‘ecologically active’ and as a result they are productive and also (of course facilitated by the forests and grasslands) they filter the ground water making it comestible for drinking, cooking etc. Most of villages rely almost entirely on these services of the soil. One important problem is that the traditional agriculture loses its economic profitability. This can have multiple consequences like land abandonment (which triggers scrub encroachment), land use intensification and land use change.

Below I make an ‘averaged’ model about how some focus groups participating in the scenario building exercise perceive the fate of these lands in the future.

Low economic profitability of lands (coupled with no alternative income) will result in financial poorness. People will likely abandon, intensify or / and eventually sell their lands.

In Western Europe the competition for agricultural land increases. Therefore the foreigner interest to buy lands in Romania will increase. Foreigners are amazed about the huge productivity of these lands and … how cheap they are.

Local institutions are luckily corrupt and weak enough to make the region attractive to opportunist ‘investors’ (this is my addition:)).

Mechanized agriculture will be introduced on large parcels of lands – in ‘western fashion’. This doesn’t need local labour because machineries are more efficient than humans, and therefore more useful and economic than humans.

The ground water will be contaminated with chemicals. This will make fountain water toxic and dangerous.

The money, as usually, will go…and the people will have no money and no land. And no clear water in the ground anymore. And no opportunity to develop a clever market system for traditional food products – from which everybody would benefit and nevertheless which would keep the environment and the people who consume its services healthy. And no way to turn back…

With the two pictures below I illustrate the above written situation. Luckily the two pictures shows two landscapes which geomorphologically are similar but the landuse is different.

Heterogeneous and highly biodiverse rural landscape in Southern Transylvania were the corncrake (Crex crex), yellow bellied toads (Bombina variegata) and tens of other internationally threatened plants and animals coexist with the extensive agriculture.

Intensive agriculture destroy the ecological value of the landscape. In short term indeed increases production but in long term the environmental and social costs may be too high. Alternative solutions need to be found to not start going in a path which is known to be damaging.

After looking to these pictures, I have some questions: what you think, which agricultural type is more sustainable, which landscape is more resilient and more biodiverse? And which produces better ground water for drinking? And finally, why people do things about which they may know that it will result in more harm than good? We still allow such failures?

Poorness and lack of precaution, combined with other things like corrupt system and hunger for achieving quick money may push people from one perceived poorness category into another, more drastic (I would say more miserable) one.

This is a likely path for the rural areas of Southern Transylvania – in the perception of some people.


2 thoughts on “Who will work the land in the future in the traditional rural landscapes of Romania?

  1. Fantastic story Tibor. Of course, which landscape is more sustainable or more resilient depends on how you define sustainable and resilient. In terms of weathering coming climate disruption and disturbances, the ‘undeveloped’ (current) landscape would seem to be more better suited (and looks like it could better hold onto its natural values). However, the identity of this current landscape looks like it will be changing due to higher scale (socio-economic) forces. So, while it might be said to ecologically more resilient, the current landscape lacks social resilience.


  2. Hi David – many thanks. Very beautifully formulated and I agree with you. I was thinking after reading your comment that how complicated things can be: to have resilient societies, to have resilient ecosystems and also resilient social-ecological systems.
    Nice greetings,

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