Editor's Note: This is an adapted version of an article by Hromadske’s partner, Ziarul de Gardă.
From 2013 to 2015, the U.S. Government donated money for the renewal of ten centralized irrigation systems in villages located on the banks of Moldova’s Dniester and Prut rivers. Nearly $14 million in aid were invested in the rehabilitation of the 50-year-old irrigation systems in the villages of Coșnița and Pârâta alone. But according to an investigation from Hromadske’s Moldovan partner outlet, Ziarul de Gardă, the investments didn’t fully address local farmers’ needs. And what’s more, they claim that no one even asked them what they needed in the first place.
As the poorest country in Europe, Moldova relies on international development investment to fund much needed infrastructure updates – some of which haven’t been carried out since the Soviet period. The repairs were made possible by the Moldova Compact program, which Moldova’s Government signed with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) – a foreign assistance agency acting on behalf of the American Government – at the beginning of 2010.
As a result of this agreement, the MCC implemented a $262 million program, financed in the form of non-reimbursable aid. The money was intended for funding road works (along the Sărăteni-Soroca route) and the transition to high-performance agriculture. This included the rehabilitation of ten centralized irrigation systems, which cost $80 million.
Following the renovations, the centralized irrigation systems came under the management of the newly-created Water Users Associations for Irrigation. Farmers who own land in the area covered by the irrigation system could become members of the Association in exchange for a fee.
At the end of the Compact Program in 2015, the Millennium Challenge Corporation decided to grant the Irrigation Users Associations additional support, in the form of donated equipment, supplies and tools. At this point, however, the management of the process for rehabilitating the irrigation systems – and ensuring the sustainability of investments made under the Compact Program – was transferred to a public institution known as the Sustainable Development Fund Moldova (FDD Moldova).
While farmers in the area say that the renovated irrigation system did open up new possibilities for advanced agricultural practices, a lack of cooperation with local authorities has been causing problems. As a result, equipment purchased without consultation with local farmers is gathering dust.
Little Attention Paid To What Farmers Truly Need
Since 2015, the Coșnița Water Users Association for Irrigation has provided pumping services for water irrigation to farmers from the villages of Coșnița and Pârâta. While some farmers have set up drip irrigation systems, others have their own equipment. But the farmers who don’t have the necessary resources can connect to hydrants provided by the Coșnița Association to access irrigation services, as well as equipment, from the Association’s endowment.
"There is a centralized irrigation system, old pumping stations, with an underground network just as old. [It was] built at the end of the sixties, with an operating period of over 50 years,” explains Ghenadie Leagul, who held the position of executive director of the Coșnița Water Users Association for Irrigation up until September 6, 2019. “When we used that system, we often experienced ruptures, we had losses of water, but there were also huge losses of electricity, from using old machines. Now, there are practically no water leaks or breaks and the possibilities for farmers to irrigate are much better.”
But despite the undeniable benefits the new irrigation systems offer, some farmers in Coșnița and Pârâta say efficiency has been partially diminished because the authorities did not coordinate their purchase with the people who would use the equipment.
“Unfortunately, the money was not used accordingly, from our point of view, because the representatives of the Fund did not consult with us, few were paying attention to farmers’ demands,” Leagul said. ‘They did everything as they wished, without consulting with us to find out our needs.”
Leagul offered the example of a tractor that the Coșnița Water Users Association for Irrigation received when the irrigation system was put into operation in 2015. Unfortunately, the vehicle is not suitable for the work most of the members of the Association conduct.
"They could have bought a cheaper tractor that would’ve better met our needs. We use tractors to carry and exploit the irrigation system. Unfortunately, we can’t use the tractor all the time, because it’s a special tractor for orchards and vineyards rather than for field crops,” Leagul told Hromadske’s partner outlet, Ziarul de Gardă. “If such a tractor were used for the field crop, it would destroy half of the crops, provoking damages for the farmer. This is why we only use it to carry irrigation equipment, and the farmer uses his own tractor to install the irrigation equipment in the field.”
Meanwhile, some of the irrigation equipment has also gone to waste.
“In 2018 we got two [pieces of] Irrimec irrigation equipment. And although they are of good quality we can’t use them because they have bigger gauges and the tractor can’t service them. No one asked us anything while buying them,” Leagul said.
In response to requests for information regarding the criteria for purchasing the irrigation equipment, FDD Moldova submitted their point of view in written form. When asked about the equipment donated to the Coșnița Water Users Association, they claimed that the farmers’ complaints were separate from the feedback they received from the Coșnița Association.
“It is important to note that the Coșnița Association was in its first year of activity, and its financial and operational competence was limited. Moreover, this was an action for small and medium-sized farmers, members of the association, who did not have the financial possibility to purchase their own irrigation equipment,” the Fund wrote in their response. “Thus, the tractor and trailer were planned for the transport of goods and the towing of Coșnița Association’s equipment.”
In addition, FDD Moldova claims that they did, in fact, conduct consultations.
“We cannot agree with the statement that Sustainable and Development Fund Moldova did not consult Water Users Associations and their members,” FDD Moldova wrote. “Prior consultation and consideration of beneficiaries' wishes are one of the key principles that guides the Fund’s activity. Thus, the purchase of irrigation equipment in 2018 was preceded by a comprehensive analysis of the first years of activity of the Association.”
Two Portable Water Pumps And An ATV Gathering Dust
In 2015, the Coșnița Water Users Association for Irrigation also received an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), valued at over $10,000. The vehicle has essentially gone unused ever since.
“It has a big value price, but in terms of utility, it equals zero. We said that a car would be useful, but we expected it to be a normal car or a truck. We don’t just go to the field, we also go into town. Now I am forced to use my own car while going to the field or to town, and the all-terrain vehicle is gathering dust in the warehouse,” Leagul explained.
In another warehouse, two portable motorized water pumps valued at over $13,000 are also gathering dust.
“The two portable water pumps were bought in 2018, without us asking for them or needing them. A car simply came and delivered them, we received them and that’s all. That money could have been used elsewhere, invested for profit, not staying in the warehouse and gathering dust,” Leagul said.
In their written response to Ziarul de Gardă, however, FDD Moldova denied these claims.
“The all-terrain vehicle was intended, similar to other associations, to access irrigation infrastructure in the field, in places not easily accessible from the service area,” the Fund explained. “This function could not be replaced by the purchase of an ordinary vehicle.”
“We cannot agree with the farmers' claim that the all-terrain vehicle was not used, because it has a total track of over 1,500 km,” FDD Moldova added. “So far, the Coșnița Association Administration has not informed the Sustainable and Development Fund Moldova (officially or during the Board meetings) that the equipment received in the commodity is not useful and that it intends to dispose of it.”
Meanwhile, Andrei Meleca, a farmer and a member of the Coșnița Water Users Association for Irrigation, thought the money could have been used to meet other needs, such as purchasing rubber hoses.
But according to the FDD Moldova, their financial assistance was not intended for these types of purchases.
“In the context of Association limited financial capabilities, Sustainable and Development Fund Moldova has focused on procuring equipment that is more expensive. This equipment must serve a large circle of farmers (small, medium and large), not necessarily some farmers. Accessories and consumables like rubber hoses, connections with hydrants, etc. are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased by the association or its members based on their particular needs,” they said in their written response.
Machinery Given To An Association That Never Used It
The Criuleni Water Users Association for Irrigation is another beneficiary of the Compact Program, that has not been able to use the equipment it received in 2015 to its full capacity. Nevertheless, representatives of FDD Moldova offered two new pieces of irrigation equipment to the Criuleni Association in 2018.
Since then, farmers who are members of the Coșnița Water Users Association for Irrigation have been borrowing the irrigation equipment donated in 2018 from the Criuleni Association for a fee – because the farmers in Criuleni use their own equipment and do not need it.
Valeriu Boșcănean, the executive director of the Criuleni Water Users Association for Irrigation, confirmed that the irrigation equipment that the association owns has not been used by its members this year, although they do plan to use it in coming years.
"Some farmers have their irrigation lines, and most of them do drip irrigation. Since there were no requests [for the equipment] from farmers this year, we rented it out. The renters fixed the equipment, used it, returned it. We'll see the orders for next year. If there are requests, we will work for sure. From our perspective we expect someone to integrate more land, to buy, to lease, because such a machine you cannot use it for 40-50 acres,” Boșcănean told Ziarul de Gardă.
According to the Fund’s written response, “the [Criuleni] association widely used the irrigation equipment provided by Sustainable and Development Fund Moldova during the period 2015-2017.” The equipment’s lack of use, they claim, is due in part to a change in farming practices. And that the equipment could be of use in the near future.
“In the years 2018-2019, some farmers who practiced value-added crops left the area, and others switched to other methods of irrigation, such as drip irrigation. The situation may change during the 2020 irrigation season or later, when the farmers in the Criuleni centralized irrigation system service area will need this irrigation equipment,” FDD Moldova wrote.
/ By Anatolie Eșanu for Ziarul de Gardă. Adaptation courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange.