Large quantities of forest fruit are being picked each year, from summer and all through to autumn, on the sunny slopes of the Carpathians.
The smell and taste of such fruit is three or four times stronger than that of the fruit cultivations. Forest fruits are organic, since they grow in highlands, protected from pollution, reason enough for such fruit to be highly appreciated by foreigners. For this year, Romsilva’s estimates in the case of forest fruit stand at roughly 3,300 tons, mostly to be sold on the foreign market.
However, apart from the forest fruits picked from the spontaneous floras, there are quite a few Romanians who started up profitable business using such plantations. Ioan Pascanut from Sibiu in central Romania has invested 80,000 euro in a sea buckthorn plantation. We now find out how this moneymaking business started up.
Ioan Pascanut: ”We started in 2006 and we planted a surface area of 7.50 hectares. Back then there were the European funds programs; I saw I could get financing for my business and I accessed a SAPARD program to set up the plantation. The sum was not so big, but it was important, nonetheless. Then we entered a period of conversion in order to be certified as ecological producers, and now we are certified as producers of organic products. It is a profitable business. Very many people believe it is a niche in the farming industry where they can get rich quickly, but that doesn’t happen overnight. This area of alternative farming if properly managed can bring profit. Yields are not so great as rumors have spread about it, while the selling price, especially the domestic one, is below expectations because of the competitiveness of the spontaneous flora. Quite a few people make the mistake of setting up a plantation without taking into account ways to capitalize on that. So you need to invest in freezing areas, storage rooms, driers and suchlike. The sea buckthorn can only be stored frozen or dried. We process part of the fruit, we prepare sea buckthorn nectar, fruits in honey, sea buckthorn oil, jointly with other producers, but we do not make our profit from such activities. The expiry date in the case of such products is rather short, they need to be sold rapidly, so we cannot afford to place them in a shop chain. The largest quantity of that, we sell it as dried or dehydrated fruit. “
Fourteen years ago, Ion Vasile Moraru of the Cosminele commune, in southern Romania’s Prahova County, set up the first grafted blackberry plantation in the country with seeding material brought from the Netherlands. The richness of the fruit and the fact that they had no thorns impressed the Romanian entrepreneur. At present he does not have an accurate record of his gains, but he can say his family makes a living out of that small business, and a decent one at that.
Vasile Moraru: ”We started in 2002 with a couple of hundred square meters. It was the country’s first blackberry plantation. I worked all alone, sometimes I got help from my family and made my life easier for myself with what I knew about it, so it did not cost me that much. My investment paid off very quickly, in two years’ time. At a certain point we found out the income we got was constant, since it takes 4-5 years for the blackberry to mature, and they bear fruit up until 15 years. A scion, provided it is properly taken care of, can yield around 5 kilos of blackberry. We also process blackberries; we prepare jelly, preserved syrups, brandy, and blackberry liqueur. We have not signed a contract with anybody just as yet, since it is only frozen black berries I can deliver abroad. They are perishable fruit that can only last for 48 hours if stored at normal temperature. However, I had two freezing rooms installed and, as of this year, provided the yield is fine, I will have my products frozen. It is no problem for blackberries to last for a year, in those freezing rooms. I did not pay heed to the yield, even for a single year. I do not have an accurate record of what I get out of my own plantation, but I was quite happy with what I got. I filled my store house, everything paid off, I was happy.”
For the time being, Romania has very few processing facilities for forest fruits. Forestry directorates countywide export fruits as raw matter, foreigners process them and then resell the produce all around Europe, for much higher prices. In order for things to change, The Dorna Mountain Farmers Federation, in partnership with the OPENFIELDS Foundation, formerly the Heifer Project for Romania Foundation, and NIBO, Norwegian Institute of Bio-economy Research, has implemented a forest fruit processing project using renewable and pollution-free energy resources. Run for a period of eighteen months, the project’s eventual aim was to develop farming models for the mountain regions, through the integration of traditional activities into the modem economic system.
What it is all about, we find out from the director of the Dorna Mountain Farmers Federation Ioan Agapi.
Ioan Agapi: ”We started off from the idea that members of the Mountain Farmers Federation are small-scale landowners in Romania’s mountain area and do not have large surface areas enabling them to grow forest fruit on an intensive basis. So we started from the idea that there were a lot of hillocky and acid plots of land that were not being capitalized on. So we thought we could set up a forest fruit processing unit, so that our members may benefit from the added value of their yield. So it was only wood that had value, but also forest fruits, mushrooms…Starting off from that idea, we followed the line of three components. Given that the financing line we accessed from the Norwegian Government was known as “green industry”, we thought we could process the forest fruit using green energy. So we met more objectives at one fell swoop: on one hand, we offer services to our members, we developed the Mountain Scent brand which is a registered trade mark with OSIM, and protected by Romanian Government, on the other hand, we yield the green energy required for the processing, that is for the functioning of the factory equipment. We have two processing lines at present: a dried fruit line and a juice-making line. At the moment, we process dried mushrooms and natural juices in all sorts of combinations: apple and blueberry, blueberry and black berry…One thing is clear, on one hand we provide services for our members, on the other hand we charge processing services for those who want to process forest fruits in Romania. We thought we could buy raw material and sell the end product, processed with the Vatra Dornei Mountain Farmers Federation and branded “The Mountain Scent ”.
The project titled “Social Forest Fruit processing enterprise using renewable energy resources” is also set to raise people’s awareness as regards environment protection and the long-lasting preservation of forests.