Success story – Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, Moldova

by Igor Spivacenco

When Stefan Sandic finished his studies at the State Agrarian University of Moldova, he and his wife traveled to the UK on a summer program for students. “It was our first time in the UK and great opportunity to see and to learn on how UK farmers work,” said the native Moldovan.

Then, unlike most young Moldovans, he and his wife returned to the family farm: They had scrimped and saved enough money to start their own business, back home. “After that, we decided to open a small company with our family, in the field I have studied at the university—beekeeping,“ he said. “It’s our family business. My grandfather worked with bees, my parents, too, and now me and my wife.”

Then, a friend told them about an IFAD grant. They applied, and thanks to the grant, were able to open the beekeeping business last year. Stefan, who is now 30, and his wife, who is 26, bought 300 hives. They were able to expand to 500 hives this year. “In our area there are a lot of farmers who need pollination of crops, like sunflowers, and there is a lot of forest,” said Stefan. “We are getting very good honey, almost organic, ecological.”

After last year’s high temperatures, which caused problems across the region, this year was a good one. The young farmer and his wife are now focusing on building a brand, and buying processing equipment, so they can market their honey directly to Europe. “Now we have the bees, we have the knowledge, and the next and last step is a small production facility to process honey to EU standards,” he explained. “It’s the last step for our business. If we get this, it will be very good.”

In Moldova, where as much as 90% of the country’s fiscal resources are concentrated in the capital, the Sandics’ story is unusual. “People in the village are poor,” the farmer explained. Getting a regular bank loan for small-scale agricultural projects is next to impossible. “If you are looking for loan, it is very expensive,” said Sandic. “The processing plant costs about 100 000 euros. In Moldova, you can only get this loan for 5 years. In Europe, you can have a loan for 25 years.”

As a result of conditions like these, Moldova is suffering from an acute brain drain. “Young people in our country, they finish their education and they leave, to Europe or Russia,” said the beekeeper. In addition to his full-time job, Sandic helps manage other rural businesses, and is so well-acquainted with the problems in the Moldovan countryside that he has been asked to give presentations on the topic in the capital. “If you go to village, there are no young people. It is terrible. There are only old people, lots of drunks. It is very, very difficult to work in the village.”

“My job is to work with bees,” he said. But he has also become a kind of cheerleader for reviving Moldovan agricultural life. “When I get the credit from you [IFAD]—thank you—I saw, it is possible to do something in this country.” Sandic called friends who had moved away, and convinced several to move back with similar grants. “Whether working in honey or cattle or anything else, we have the same goal: to produce, all the way to the packaging.”

“All my friends have gone to work in Spain, Italy, UK, USA, Ireland,” said Sandic. “Our country is an agriculture country. In five to ten years, there will be nobody here to work. But this is a good project, it will attract young people.”
He, for one, is happy to be back in the countryside, keeping bees in his family’s tradition. “Yes!” he said, with a laugh. “I like it, because I am from the village.”