'Sleeping giant' – to me this qualification used to evoke words like 'large', 'potential, 'opportunities' and 'growth'. Last week I visited one of these sleeping giants in Europe, especially when it comes down to pork production: Romania.
Demand for pork has always been large in Romania, as many dishes served contain pork. The country used to be self-sufficient to a very large degree until 1989. Unfortunately Romania lost many of its pig stocks when many large farms went down with the communist system, and the country’s been struggling ever since, importing a lot of pork.
Getting back on track is a long-term project. Investing strongly in Romanian pig farms, the world’s largest pork producer and processor Smithfield jumped in, and met the Romanian practice the hard way when some of its complexes were struck by Classical Swine Fever (CSF), several years ago.
Finally, by the end of 2011, Romania was declared free of CSF – and theoretically exports could start. It will take quite some time before the country gets there though.
About half of the country’s sows are still kept in backyards – I learnt. Village people in the countryside drive around in horse and carriage, I observed. Only three highways in the vicinity of Bucharest have so far been constructed, leaving a large chunk of the country relatively difficult to reach.
Many foreign investors in pig farms face the legacy of years of severe communism and its aftermath – like corrupt authorities, some farm staff stealing from farms or not being used to taking initiatives. Starting up a business is like pioneering.
Personally, the visit gave me a totally new view on the European Union. I had always thought that a country which is part of the EU equaled to having a very reasonable degree of development. That thought, I know now, needed some adjusting. Having seen the capital Bucharest and its surroundings, I indeed did acknowledge its vast agricultural and economic potential. And I understand that this EU member state is more than anything else one big investment project.
But what I learnt most of all is to add one more tag to the words ‘sleeping giant’ – ‘not there yet’.
An exclusive and extensive report on a farm that does do exceptionally well in Romania will be published in both the magazine and on the website in the months to come.