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Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

Using
Statistics to Standardize Agriculture

Antoine Roger
ABSTRACT
In this article, the agricultural sector in Romania provides the basis of a
sociological enquiry into the contribution of statistics to the definition of
legitimate economic organization. Using the analytical tools developed by
James C. Scott, the emphasis is laid on the Farm Accountancy Data Network
(FADN) developed by the European Commission to define economically
viable farms. The measurement units which the FADN provides are applied
at national level to determine legitimate agricultural practices. This imposes
a productivist definition of the agricultural economy which diverges from
the modes of social and economic organization observed in rural areas in
Romania. Four million Romanian citizens make their living directly from
working the land. The majority own smallholdings received during decollectivization and practise subsistence farming at the fringes of the legal economy. Instead of employing a definition of agriculture consistent with their
practices and developing local distribution channels, quantification instruments provided by the European Commission form the basis of a selection
procedure among these smallholders. These instruments have enabled the
Romanian Ministry of Agriculture to set a threshold of economic viability below which producers are deemed unable to develop a commercial
approach to their activities. The objective is to help those who just about
reach the required level to consolidate their agricultural holdings and take up
intensive farming. The remainder are disqualified and encouraged to leave
the sector. To further this objective, the category semi-subsistence agriculture has been created and takes centre stage in all measures implemented.
Nevertheless, the statistical dividing lines on which this category is based
have no substance and the structure of agriculture is manifesting high levels
of inertia.

INTRODUCTION

Scholars today are analysing the processes at work in the political definition of legitimate economic organization by focusing on the role of public
The author would like to thank the anonymous referees for their helpful comments and
suggestions on an earlier draft of this article.
Development and Change 00(0): 121. DOI: 10.1111/dech.12102
2014 International Institute of Social Studies.


C

Antoine Roger

authorities (Fligstein, 1996, 2001). An increasing number of studies in the


sociology of quantification highlight the political power of statistics, stressing its role in the production of categories which underpin public action
(Espeland and Mitchell, 2008; Porter, 1995; Rudinow Saetnan et al., 2010;
Starr, 1987; Van Arkadie, 1973). In both cases, the European Union (EU)
is a favoured object of attention. Focusing on the EU enables observation
of the stages which punctuate the definition of legitimate economic organization, and highlights both the institutional obstacles and forms of support
provided at national and supra-national levels (Fligstein and Mara-Drita,
1996). Research is also conducted into the unification of survey techniques
and statistical nomenclatures at EU level (Coutrot, 2008). However, these
levels of analysis remain dissociated: those rare studies which combine economic sociology with the sociology of quantification continue to concentrate
on the national level (Didier, 2007). It is nevertheless possible to hold that
EU statistics participate directly in the political definition of legitimate economic organization on a national level. This can be seen by studying one
of the oldest and most influencial of EU policies: the Common Agricultural
Policy (CAP).
When the CAP was launched in 1962, high-ranking European civil servants responsible for administering it were quick to seek out statistical tools
to monitor the effects of the price guarantee system on all types of production and on a state-by-state basis. The Eurostat statistical service was
tasked with conveying their requests to national statistical organizations and
with collecting data which were to be as closely comparable as possible.
A Directorate of Agricultural Statistics was created within Eurostat. As a
first step, General Agricultural Censuses were to be carried out by member
states every ten years. On the basis of the data thus collected, samples were
created which were used to carry out biannual Community Surveys on the
Structure of Agricultural Holdings, more commonly designated Structure
Surveys. National statistical institutes were made responsible for steering
these operations. For purposes of homogenization, common definitions and
methodological rules were drawn up by Eurostat. This quickly met with
some resistance: statisticians in member states refused to give up their usual
charts and tables, invoking the principle of continuity. Consequently, for a
long time there remained significant gaps in the data provided to Eurostat.
After repeated efforts, and in exchange for funding paid to national bodies,
improvements were achieved in the procedures effectiveness. The situation
stabilized only by the 1970s. Those in charge of the European Commissions
Directorate-General (DG) for Agriculture were not content to passively await
these developments. They went beyond the principle which attributed exclusive competence in European Statistics to Eurostat, and on 15 June 1965
(by Regulation 79/65), they created the Farm Accountancy Data Network
(FADN), with Unit G.3 responsible for its administration. It provided funds
to member states to carry out unified surveys of the income and economic
structure of agricultural holdings. Specialized departments within national

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

ministries of agriculture were given direct responsibility for these operations.


Each year, a consolidated report was published on the economic situation
of EU agricultural holdings which compared the characteristics of member
states. Ad hoc studies were also carried out at the request of the Commission
and other European institutions (Bertin, 1999; Calo, 2003).
The statistical tools developed by the European Commission were closely
articulated with a definition of legitimate organization of agriculture: since its
implementation, the CAP has promoted the development of big farming and
monoculture, to the detriment of small-scale family farming and polyculture.
Through the standardization of measurement units and the construction of a
European framework of commensurability, subsidies were directed towards
defined political objectives. The DG for Agriculture used the FADN not only
to assess the effects of new regulations, but also to legitimize the sifting-out
of agricultural holdings which did not fit the required statistical profiles.
Selection criteria based on cut-off points were adopted, privileging some
production structures, types of crop or forms of inclusion within distribution
networks, and excluding alternative forms of economic organization.1
In order to set out in detail this articulation between statistics and legitimate
economic organization, we can focus on one case which is currently in the
process of stabilization, namely Romania. This country acceded to the EU in
2007. Its administration embarked on a process of alignment with European
statistical norms, the stages of which can be precisely recounted. As a result,
the Romanian agricultural sector was subjected to far-reaching restructuring
policies. These were an extension of existing decollectivization measures,
as successive governments in the past had already been at pains to align
with the modes of organization prevalent in other EU states. The Romanian
case allows us to study the links between alignment with EU statistical
1. The effects of this procedure were observable in the older member states as soon as the FADN
was established. When the CAP was launched in the 1960s, France was the beneficiary
state with the largest proportion of farmers. Here, farm holdings and the organization of
agricultural work still displayed great diversity. The French authorities embarked on the
construction of an integrated agricultural market geared towards large-scale distribution
and subject to productivist principles. They made a concerted effort to carry out successive
reductions in the diversity of agricultural practices. Their approach was to concentrate on a
specific kind of farming, to isolate it, to make it appear natural, and to normalize it, to the
detriment of other forms of organization. This resulted in the constitution, by subtraction,
of a group designated by all parties as the hard core of agriculture, and, through
successive shifts in meaning, as the only true form of agriculture (Remy, 1990: 262).
French civil servants also imposed the idea that financial support and subsidies should not
be paid out indiscriminately to all farm holdings but only to those which met professional
agriculture criteria which meant belonging to that form of agriculture judged to be
socially necessary (ibid.: 264). The FADN consolidated the professional quality label
created by national authorities; it enabled the selection of some and the exclusion of others
to be seen as socially axiomatic, or even as a scientific truth (ibid.: 264). This orientation
was facilitated by the fact that senior French civil servants played a major role in drawing
up European nomenclatures and could define these forms in accordance with their own
national objectives.

Antoine Roger

norms and restructuring policies. More specifically, it raises questions about


the appropriateness of using a statistical tool that was devised in the 1960s
on the basis of realities that existed at the time in the first member states.
The question arises as to the suitability of adopting a standardized basis for
measurement in an environment markedly different from that for which it
was devised.
To outline a response, we begin by seeking theoretical support from the
work of James C. Scott on the standardization of measurement tools adopted
by administrations. The FADN can be seen as a map of legibility and control (Scott, 1998: 348). It imposes a particular definition of agricultural
economic organization, one which is poorly adapted to the structure of the
Romanian economy inherited from the Communist period. It excludes the
greatest majority of agricultural holdings which are mainly directed towards
on-farm consumption and are positioned outside commercial channels as
commonly conceived. From here, we can proceed to conduct an empirical
analysis of the statistical and political work undertaken by Romanian Ministry of Agriculture officials, in association with the European Commission.
The difficulty lies in the use of FADN categories in order to comply with the
definition of economic organization prevalent in the EU (Romania having
to gradually fall in line) in view of the established agricultural structure.
A solution was gradually found, which consisted of delineating a category
of smallholdings designated as economically viable, which for the time
being falls outside the boundaries of legitimate economic organization but
which has the potential to be aligned with the kind of farming public authorities wish to promote. As a third step, we shall see that this use of a
cut-off point determines where subsidies are directed, without succeeding
in fundamentally modifying the models of economic organization which are
favoured by Romanian farmers. On-farm consumption remains a common
practice, and smallholdings remain in place, at the margins of governmental
measures and distribution networks. This case study may thus provide food
for thought about the limits of the performative power of statistics on social
and economic reality.
The analysis is based on fieldwork conducted in 2009 and during the summer of 2010. Observations and semi-structured interviews were carried out in
the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Information
and data were collected from the FADN Unit and the Department of Statistical Studies. Statistics archives were consulted at the General Directorate
of Environmental and Agricultural Statistics (Directia generala de statistici
agricole si mediu) of the National Statistical Institute (Institut national de
statistica or INS). Information was also obtained about the judet (county) of
Vrancea from the local Directorate of Agriculture and Rural Development
(Directia Agricole si pentru Dezvoltare Rurala or DADR, a decentralized
department of the same Ministry) and from the County Statistics Directorate (Directia judetene de statistica, a decentralized department of the
INS).

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

SEEING LIKE THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION: THE FARM


ACCOUNTANCY DATA NETWORK AS MAP OF LEGIBILITY AND
CONTROL

In his book Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott studies the maps which
national administrations devise for themselves in order to make a society
legible. Each state must have a measure, a metric that would allow it to
translate what it knew into a common standard necessary for a synoptic
view (Scott, 1998: 2). As such, the author proposes to distinguish what
might be called facts on paper from facts on the ground (ibid.: 49), thus
bringing to the fore a gap between two levels of observation: fictional farmers versus real farmers (ibid.). Agricultural holdings always evidence great
variety. The units of farmer and farm community are, finally, every
bit as intricate and fluid as the weather, soil and landscape. Mapping them
is even more problematic than, say, analysing the soil (ibid.: 300). This,
nevertheless, is not to imply that abstractions constructed by administrations are not effective. They are powerful misrepresentations that usually
circle back to influence reality. They operate at a minimum, to generate
research and findings most applicable to farms that meet the description of
their schematization: large, mono-cropped, mechanized, commercial farms
that are producing solely for the market (ibid.). Consequently, the agricultural policy adopted works to the detriment of those producers that do not
fit the schematization and systematically operate to nudge reality toward
the grid of its observations (ibid.). Agriculture statistics thus should be seen
in this light: by setting standardized units of measurement, they can simplify
the reading of reality and be used to impose a definition of the legitimate
economic organization which favours some holdings but not others. With
a view to being reduced to a common commensurability framework, the
organization and functioning of the market are considered independently of
the principles of economic and social insurance developed by smallholders
(Scott, 1976: 3234).
Devised to analyse the control of the state over economic activities, this
analytical framework can be applied to other levels. Scott argues that the
development of global capitalism leads the search for legibility and standardization: unified reading frameworks facilitate the free circulation of
goods and capital (Scott, 1998: 33539). Basing his argument on the example of oil corporations in Angola, James Ferguson discusses this analysis,
showing that capitalist firms do not seek legible societies but are content
to control extracting enclaves protected by private militias. Global corporations seek not homogenization within a national grid but, more often,
the abandonment of the idea of national grids altogether, along with the intensive exploitation of separately-administered enclaves (Ferguson, 2005:
37879). Without contesting that this reading of the case in question is well
founded, Scott maintains that no general conclusions can be drawn from it.
For Scott (2005: 400), the importance of legibility mechanisms depends

Antoine Roger

very much on what sector of global capitalism we are discussing. Oil can
be extracted without the entire society being organized to facilitate this.
This is not the case for all economic activity and does not hold true for
agriculture in particular. In this instance, international organizations such as
the OECD or the World Bank offer supporting evidence. They use unified
measurement units in order to make their member states legible; sometimes these mechanisms reinforce the delineations established by national
administrations (Broome and Seabrooke, 2012).
The example of EU agricultural statistics can be studied from this perspective. It enables us to clarify the conditions under which measurement
instruments may be used to facilitate the restructuring of economic activities.
Although the stated aim of the FADN is to assess the consequences of the
CAP and to assist in the formulation of new proposals, the analyses produced
also enable the definition of a homogeneous market. By reducing the diversity observed on the ground to a single set of measurement units, national and
European administrations can carry out formalized comparisons, construct
scenarios and distribute subsidies in accordance with expected results.
After 2000, the enlargement of the EU to Central and Eastern Europe was
to put these arrangements to the test. A significant part of the population in
several new member states was making its living from agricultural activities.
National administrations which had worked to facilitate the accession process found themselves facing European discount systems which had become
stabilized over several decades, without any consideration of their specific
constraints. The case of Romania is exemplary: of all the EU member states,
Romania had the greatest proportion of farmers (36 per cent of the active
population according to the 2002 census). Because of these characteristics,
arrangements for the extension of the CAP area were examined in detail.
Chapter 7 of the negotiations initiated between Brussels and Bucharest dealt
with the adoption of the acquis communautaire in statistics. Particular attention was paid to the organization of General Agricultural Censuses and
Structure Surveys. Progressive integration with the FADN was also required
by the European Commission.
The characteristics of Romanian agriculture nevertheless presented an obstacle to any straightforward alignment with the established nomenclature.
These characteristics can be explained by the form which decollectivization
took. Under the Communist regime, two models of organization were imposed. In State Agriculture Units (Intreprideri Agricole de Stat) a part of the
profits was used to create a wages fund and remuneration for employees.
Members of Agricultural Production Cooperatives (Cooperative Agricole
de Productie) worked the collective land together and, in return, could do
supplementary farm work on an individual plot. Crops from these allotments could be distributed via parallel economic circuits, with a high level
of adaptability to the economic situation (Kideckel, 1993). In 1991, agricultural structures within the planned economy were dismantled; employees
of the former Agricultural Production Cooperatives became the owners of

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

the plots which had previously been allocated to them. The remaining agricultural land was returned to its former owners. Some agricultural holdings
were resold and could be consolidated with land from the former State Agriculture Units, which were privatized or concessioned, largely in undivided
form. This resulted in a marked polarization of the structure of land holdings.
Today, Romania has 14 million hectares of agricultural land and 3.9 million
farms are recorded in the census. Large latifundia-type agricultural holdings
have been created, some of over 50,000 hectares. These coexist with more
than 3 million micro-properties which barely exceed one hectare and are
geared towards on-farm consumption (ASA, 2007).
Romanian civil servants have limited freedom to capture these realities:
they are obliged to reproduce the categories developed before EU enlargement.2 In 2002, a first General Agricultural Census (Recensamantul General
Agricol) was conducted, in accordance with EU requirements. It indicated
that 50 per cent of total production was devoted to on-farm consumption
and that 3.1 million agricultural holdings used more than half their crops
in this way (RGA, 2002). These practices are an extension of the informal
economic activities based on individual allotments which were developed
under the Communist regime. The smallholders who perpetuate them have
no investment capacity. In the absence of the ability to acquire phytosanitary
treatments, they favour extensive farming methods and use very few inputs.
Their crops guarantee them direct food supplies, protected from price fluctuations. This explains why, over time, smallholders consistently refuse to
join cooperative ventures. Rather than reverting to the psychological analyses which invoke mistrust inherited from the Communist period, and the
view that any form of mutualization is deemed as a first step towards collectivization (Radu and Neamtu, 2011), this behaviour is better explained by a
belief in a form of insurance which is at once economic and social. That is,
2. The fact that Romanian statisticians were unable to draw on consolidated national frameworks facilitated the adoption of European quantification instruments. Prior to 2000, there
was a high level of historical discontinuity in Romanian agricultural statistics. During the
1930s, under the direction of Dimitrie Gusti, the Bucharest Sociological School set up surveys in Romanian villages and managed to publish many monographs. Researchers were
asked to shed light on the interplay between economic and political dimensions of village life. The idea was to develop general principles to guide economic reforms, without
rejecting existing agricultural practices (Gusti, 1937). The studies guided the definition
of official statistical categories for the first two Romanian agricultural censuses, in 1941
and 1948. Communist authorities put an end to these endeavours, branding sociology as a
bourgeois discipline and banning it for several decades (Crstocea, 2007). Simultaneously,
collectivization put an end to surveys of farm holding structures. During the Communist
era, only yields were regularly assessed. After 1989, the Ministry of Agriculture lacked the
means to launch any sizeable programme in the short term. On the initiative of the World
Bank, snapshots were taken in 1998 and 2001 on the basis of 2000 land holdings. The
adoption of agricultural censuses and the commitment to statistically delineated categories
of producers were closely entwined with the process of accession to the EU, and with the
accompanying sources of funding.

Antoine Roger

here as elsewhere, smallholders wish to maintain full control over their land
and to adapt the way they exploit it in order to be in a position to face some
unexpected event (Galli, 1987; Ronnas, 1993).
By its very conception, the FADN runs counter to this approach. Whenever
it is used, only one form of economic organization is held to be legitimate:
producers are enjoined from on high to adapt to it either by reorienting their practices, or by giving up their land. Within such a framework,
there is no scope for adapting distribution networks to the mode of organization favoured by smallholders for example, by certifying crops from
smallholdings as organic and by putting in place suitable systems for their
collection and marketing (Raynolds, 2000). In the event that a smallholder
does manage to squeeze out some kind of surplus, there is no opportunity to
market it legally. No local distribution channels or purchasing cooperatives
geared towards small producers have been set up to enable this.3 Instead of
adapting measures and instruments to the existing structure of land holdings
and forms of social organization, Ministry of Agriculture officials proceeded
by imposing FADN categories in order to align Romanian agriculture with
the definition of legitimate economic organization underpinning those categories. They used EU measurement units to delimit or demarcate categories
of farmers and to set out the future direction of agricultural policy, in accordance with EU stipulations. FADN provided a map of legibility and
control that defines the characteristics of semi-subsistence agriculture.
Those smallholdings labelled in this way are regarded as economically
viable (viabil economic) and it is assumed that they will gradually enter
commercial channels and occupy the immense gap which for the moment
separates micro-holdings from big agricultural businesses. This forecast
translates into subsidy mechanisms which encourage the consolidation of
viable agricultural holdings.

ADJUSTING STATISTICAL CATEGORIES: IDENTIFYING


ECONOMICALLY VIABLE AGRICULTURAL HOLDINGS

Since the fall of the Communist regime, several procedures have been employed to draw a rather arbitrary distinction between farmers who are destined to switch to a legitimate mode of organization that is, those who are
likely, over time, to enter the market as it is presently conceived and those
who are condemned to wither away economically. Due to this thinking along

3. As a consequence, informal economic networks are built up on a familial basis. Smallholders


have strong connections with relatives who live and work in the city: they provide them
with agricultural products and can rely on their material support in return. In many cases, a
family member also works abroad and sends some money in order to provide supplemental
income.

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

lines of demarcation and the inevitable questions it raises about selection


criteria, a certain amount of trial and error has been unavoidable.
During the 1990s, in the absence of precise indicators to distinguish between agricultural activities, several categories were used to this end. While
the Ministry of Agriculture referred in generic fashion to agricultural producers (producator agricole) or to landowners (gospodar), a further distinction was made between peasants (tarani) and farmers (fermieri). The
latter, in contrast to the former, were implicitly considered to be economic
entrepreneurs, motivated by the desire to make a profit. No principle was
offered as the basis for this distinction, the two designations occupying the
two extremes on a continuum, rather than being used for precise, definitive
classifications.
After 2000, prospects for accession to the EU became clearer. An agenda
was set and negotiations addressed more specific questions. The discussion
of agricultural issues led to a hardening of the demarcations being used. An
opposition was set up between an economically viable farm (ferma viabila
economic) and a subsistence holding (gospodaria de subzistanta). This
distinction first occurs in the National Plan for Agriculture and Rural Development (Programul National Pentru Agricultura si Dezvoltare Rurala) which
was drawn up for the period 20002006. Only holdings of sufficient size
were designated as viable, as opposed to marginal holdings from which
subsidies were to be withheld. The document refers to minimum thresholds
of viability for each sector, postponing further specification to a later stage
(PNADR, 2000: 130, 139). Clarification was provided by Emergency Order
No. 108 in 2001 (which became Law No. 166 in 2002). A restrictive definition was established at this point: agricultural holdings are complex forms
of property organization, based on realizing the value of lands, animals and
other means of production, the whole forming a unitary system effectively
oriented towards the carrying out of performance of physical work, the provision of services and the obtaining of agricultural products.4 In addition to
emphasizing property ownership and excluding tenant farming, the text lays
down a criterion of efficiency. In order to specify how it was to be applied,
a distinction was made between commercial agricultural holdings, defined
as those comprising a minimum surface area of 110 ha of cereals in lowland
areas, and family holdings, which fall below this threshold. Articles 5(2)
and 7 state that EU subsidies are to be restricted to the first of these groups
(Tofan, 200506).
The principles initially set out here aimed at offering pledges to EU negotiators and at convincing them that their Romanian interlocutors were capable
of presiding over a selection process. New delimitations were later imposed
by the European Commission through the implementation of SAPARD
(Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development).
4. See: http://lege5.ro/Gratuit/gmzdanry/ordonanta-de-urgenta-nr-108--2001-privindexploatatiile-agricole

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Antoine Roger

In order to lay claim to EU credits, Romanian landholdings were obliged


to meet the criteria laid down by EC Regulation 1444/2002, under which a
holding must be a single technical and economic unit of agricultural production under single management, whatever the type of landholding and legal
form chosen. These provisions were thus no longer limited to landowners.
In order to base payments on reliable indicators, the European Commission
asked the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture to carry out a General Agricultural Census (Recensamantul General Agricol) every ten years, as in other
member states. The first operation of this type was carried out in 2002.
The remaining distinctions only concerned the size of farms. Although the
new statistical categories did not of themselves give rise to a definition of
a commercial holding, they led to the abandonment of the delimitations
previously adopted. It appeared that the threshold set in 2001 (110 ha of
cereals in lowlands) would mean that EU subsidies would be concentrated
on less than 5 per cent of farm units. The new data enabled a distinction
between the different types of farming and stock-rearing practices, but it
still did not provide information on the positioning of agricultural holdings
within commercial channels.
Right at this time, as negotiations for accession to the EU began, the
European Commission called on the Romanian authorities to work on the
implementation of the FADN methodology. Within this framework, only
agricultural holdings defined as professional were considered. The boundaries of this category could vary from one member state to another, although
the European Commission had been providing standardized measurement
units since 1985 (Commission Regulation 377/1985). The first, the Standard Gross Margin (SGM) represents the value of the production obtained
from a hectare of land or from an animal, less the cost of necessary inputs.
In each agricultural region defined by the European Commission, SGMs
are calculated for various different types of production (the list comprises
around a hundred entries). In order to avoid calculations being skewed by
fluctuations in the production or price of inputs, a three-year average was
fixed. In order to help Romania provide the expected information and be
included in the FADN before accession to the EU, the Commissions own
services calculated the SGM for each production category. In 2002, for example, the measurement unit was fixed at 300 for non-irrigated wheat,
maize and sunflower. Second, on the basis of SGMs, the FADN calculates
the total annual production of a holding. The result is expressed in European
Size Units (ESU). By convention, each ESU is currently worth 1,200. If a
farmer has X hectares and X head of farm animals, a conversion into SGMs
can be carried out for each category. The total is itself converted into ESUs.
For example, if the total worth of SGMs is 1,800, the holding represents
1.5 ESUs.5
5. In order to take account of the principle of decoupling subsidies from production introduced
by the CAP reform of 2003, Standard Output (SO) was later calculated instead of SGM

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

11

These measurement units were used for the first time in Romania at the end
of 2002. An experimental data collection programme was then instituted,
limited to eighteen judete (counties). In 2003, it was extended to the whole
of Romania (forty-one judete), enabling partial information to be collected
(Geta Roman et al., 2006). At this time, Romanian experts were trained
by European Commission officials in order to prepare for accession to the
EU. A central FADN bureau was set up within the Romanian Ministry
of Agriculture and was in direct contact with the Commission. Under its
supervision, the first sampling plan (planul de selectie) was drawn up by the
National Statistical Institute on the basis of the General Agricultural Census
of 2002. Preparatory work was financed by a European programme (PHARE
RO 04 IB/AG/02). This gave rise to discussions on the criteria used to define
professional holdings. In view of the data at their disposal, the Romanian
statisticians asked that the surface area of each agricultural holding be taken
into account: they characterized as professional those farms with a size of
one hectare or more. The officers representing the European Commission
demanded that specific additional information be included. The results of the
2005 Structure Survey led to the introduction of another criterion; in addition
to the threshold originally fixed, partial commercialization of production was
stipulated. This made it possible to obtain FADN results in 2008 (on the basis
of the previous harvest year). For this survey, 833,984 agricultural holdings
were included in the sampling plan. Of these, 811,028 were characterized as
small (below 8 ESUs); 13,882 were included in the low medium category
(816 ESUs) and 4,931 in the high medium category (1640 ESUs); 2,602
were described as large (40100 ESUs) and 1,541 as very large (100 ESUs
and over). In the light of these assessments, a sample of 1,000 holdings was
finally created. It was based on a simple criterion of economic size: farms
of over 2 ESUs were considered to be professional. Others were not taken
into account. Using the same method, the sample was extended to include
2,000 farms in 2009 and 4,000 farms in 2010. It included 6,000 units in 2011
and was subsequently to be stabilized at that level.
The delineations of the FADN made it possible to create categories of
farmers which are based on a productivist model. As such, professional
holdings (measured in ESUs) swiftly superseded economically viable units.
The inclusion of European norms provided the Ministry of Agriculture with
the means to delineate a clear definition of the term professional which
up till then had only been approximate. Viability was thus characterized
as the capacity to enter into existing commercial channels, excluding onfarm consumption. ESUs have become a central tool of national agricultural
policy, thus making it possible to statistically identify the line that delimits
(Commission Regulation 1242/2008). This new method of calculation was included in the
FADN in 2010. The Standard Output represents the production potential of one hectare or
one farm animal, independently of all subsidies. Its value was to be calculated as an average
over five years and expressed in euros.

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Antoine Roger

non-professional and unviable farms. Those farmers who are below 2


ESUs and are not included in the FADN find themselves disqualified (Tonea
et al., 2008). In their meetings and working documents, Ministry of Agriculture officials made full use of the proposed demarcations. Oppositions were
often set up between those units which can be included within an economic
strategy and those which were part of a social problem. The calculation
rules imposed on Romania led to the establishment, product by product, of
the physical size of land or number of livestock required to achieve the crucial threshold. Conversion tables have been distributed to judet Directorate
personnel which show that 2 ESUs correspond to 7 ha of wheat, or 8 ha of
maize, or eight milk cows, fourteen pigs or 330 egg-producing hens. Thus,
in dealing with a particular case, civil servants are readily able to determine
whether they are dealing with a farmer worthy of their attention.6
Although the apparent neutrality of the figures has facilitated the work of
the administration, the social effectiveness of the divisions that have been
set up remains questionable. The populations targeted have not internalized
these divisions and never refer to them in their daily activities. Those producers placed in the professional farm category on the grounds that they
achieve 2 ESUs continue to consume part of their production. Those whose
activities are situated just below this level also partake in market-based activities. Most of their energy is focused on on-farm consumption, but should
they manage to produce a small surplus, they sell their produce at local markets if it is permitted or by the roadside if they are not prevented by police
checks.7
The continuum of practices observed thus constitute a vast grey area
(Cartwright and Swain, 2002: 7), a reality which compromises the operability of the boundary traced out by the FADN. In order to buttress the attempt
at statistical distancing, the Ministry of Agriculture has to carve out several
6. Following a slightly different route, a similar pattern can be observed in Poland. Under
the Communist regime, a large number of small private family farms were maintained.
Reforms enacted after 1989 resulted in the creation of large agricultural holdings but did not
manage to eliminate small producers. The EU provided statistical guidance to the national
authorities. In 2002, the Polish Central Statistical Office (Glovny Urzad Statystyczny) and
the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development created a joint task force with the support
of the European Commission, in order to conduct an agricultural census and to update the
sampling framework for structural surveys. According to these statistical data, there were
2.2 million agricultural farms, with an average size of 5.6 ha; 20 per cent of farms supplied
80 per cent of all agricultural products in terms of value. The Government of Poland then
received a grant from the Europe AID-Phare programme for the Implementation of the
Polish FADN Training project. In 2010, new statistical data were published: agricultural
holdings less than 2 ESU are classified as subsistence farms, that is, committed to an
illegitimate economic organization. In Poland, 70 per cent of all agricultural holdings, home
to 3.7 million people, fall into this category (Dannenberg and Kuemmerle, 2010; Halamska,
2009).
7. Informal trading was tacitly tolerated until the end of 2006. Subsequently, police checks
were strengthened in order to meet EU requirements.

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

13

groups from those producers who opt for on-farm consumption. Its officers
have an interest in drawing a line inside the grey area, given that some
farmers temporarily undertake subsistence farming but are destined to fully
enter into commercial channels. The difficulty is to isolate those attributes
which would enable a circumscribed whole to be identified. Since 2005,
the European Commission has provided an instrument to this end. It identifies the category semi-subsistence agriculture and distinguishes it from
subsistence agriculture by means of a qualitative leap and not by a simple
variation on a common scale of measurement. According to this regulation,
it is appropriate to place in this new category agricultural holdings which
produce primarily for their own consumption and also market a portion of
their output (European Commission Regulation 1698/2005, Article 34[1]).
However, an assessment tool has also been proposed: based on the FADN,
semi-subsistence is to be measured in ESUs. The Commission agreed to
enter discussions with member states in order to fix the threshold on a caseby-case basis, taking into account constraints related to geo-climatic and soil
characteristics. Agreement was rapidly reached to classify semi-subsistence
farms in Hungary as those achieving between 2 and 4 ESUs, and in Bulgaria
as those achieving between 1 and 4 ESUs. For Romania, a certain amount
of trial and error applied. Although the FADN values enabled a floor to be
fixed at 2 ESUs, the upper limit of the new category elicited some discussion
(Giurca, 2008). The difficulty resided in finding the optimal level in order to
populate the category: the ceiling must be high enough to meet the objective
of diversifying agriculture, but at the same time low enough for the rise in
numbers to be measurable in the medium term and attest to the success of
the policy being implemented.
The National Strategic Plan drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture in
2006 made a distinction for the first time between three types of holding,
combining criteria of economic size and participation in distribution channels. It describes subsistence agriculture as the exclusive practice of on-farm
consumption with a level of below 2 ESUs; semi-subsistence agriculture
is described as mainly located in farms of between 2 and 6 ESUs; whereas
commercial agriculture is entirely directed towards the market and is only
to be found above 6 ESUs.
In order to assist the accession of Romania to the EU, the Commission
asked the government to draw up a National Rural Development Programme
for the period 20072013 (Programul National de Dezvoltare Rurala
PNDR, 2007). The terms of this document set out conditions for the payment of subsidies under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. The Ministry of Agriculture commissioned a survey by the National
Statistical Institute to supplement and refine FADN information. A sample
of 6,427 farms was put together. The simplified questionnaire took account of the surface area, the number of plots cultivated, their location and
the distribution of crops. On the basis of the results obtained, the decision
was finally taken to place in the semi-subsistence category those farms

14

Antoine Roger

achieving between 2 and 8 ESUs. A grouping was thus constructed whose


basis was entirely shaped by statistics. The proposed demarcation enabled an
amalgamation of quantified attributes (ESUs) and the behaviours expected
(a regular and constant directing of surpluses towards the market). The
first of these attributes was only to be found in official documents and the
second was implicitly understood as no more than an extension of the first.
With this intermediate group having been created in numerical fashion and
identified by its inherent properties, a symbolic divide was introduced in the
continuum of behaviours observed. In the new typology, the mere fact of
making ones living from agriculture is no longer enough to lay claim to
the status of a farmer. The document submitted to the European Commission laid down that a farmer is a physical or legal person whose holding is
located on the territory of the country and which has a dimension equal or
superior to two ESUs (PNDR, 2007: 150). Several million actors who draw
their means of existence from working the land found themselves deprived
of the very official designation which until then had described their activity.
Once stabilized, agricultural statistics function as fact-totems (De Santos,
2009): the new categories shape discussion and analyses, but their relevance
is not discussed. Two major questions preoccupy administrations, mobilize
researchers and monopolize the attention of journalists. The first is how, or
by what means, semi-subsistence farms will become fully integrated into
existing distribution channels. On the basis of the Structure Survey carried
out in 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated that 60,000 could become
effective commercial farms within five years (Giurca, 2008: 221). Secondly, questions arise as to the fate of those actors who practise subsistence
farming but who are no longer officially recognized as farmers. Common
practice generally dictates waiting for the oldest of these to gradually disappear from the scene and assuming the automatic conversion of those who
inherit the farms. However, the solutions offered by the government remain
very general. They take the form of moralistic judgements rather than being
based on concrete proposals. Following a meeting with high-level EU civil
servants, the Romanian Minister of Agriculture, Mihail Dumitru, made some
instructive remarks:
A farmer is a person who has available to him and who deploys the whole set of physical
and financial resources to produce agricultural goods for the market . . . . Those people who
resort to cultivating the land as the only available alternative for survival do not make this
activity a profession. We must not confuse the social problems of the Romanian village with
the development of agriculture (Business Magazin, 2010).
We would like there to be in each village hairdressers, small businesses, service enterprises,
so that people dont have to go to the city for everything. This is where we should try to
absorb a part of the labour force . . . . I would like the individuals concerned to understand
economic logic, so they understand that subsidies are not there to compensate for market
failure, so they understand that in normal conditions whoever takes up agriculture must think
about making a profit (Ziarul financiar, 2010).

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

15

Forecasts of a reduction in the number of disqualified small producers are


supported by the statistical tools themselves. The 2007 Structure Survey
introduced benchmarking procedures: tables are drawn up to compare, at
regular intervals, the percentage of farm units below 2 ESUs registered in
Romania and in other member states especially in Central and Eastern
Europe (ASA, 2007). These measures are aimed at assessing the backlog
or gap to be eliminated in order to achieve alignment with the expected
structure of land holdings. They consolidate the frameworks of thought and
action which by their very nature brand subsistence agriculture a problem
to be eradicated.
In order to bring the countrys statistics in line with European norms,
the Romanian authorities have essentially invented a category of legitimate
farmers. A demarcation line was drawn between those producers capable
of switching their production to commercial trade and those condemned to
remain shut out of the market. This operation boils down to drawing a sharp
distinction between economic practices situated along a continuum. In order
to endow this process with some sort of social efficiency, EU administrators
and the Romanian government are at pains to specify the dividing lines
that have been drawn, making farmers who practise economically viable
agriculture a clearly identifiable group. Having defined those attributes which
enable an actor to claim this label, analyses and discussions all point in
the same direction. The measures adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture
are quite logically focused on consolidating the group thus delimited and
emphasizing the selection process initiated.

USING STATISTICAL CATEGORIES: THE IMPLEMENTATION OF


SELECTIVE AGRICULTURAL POLICIES

In order to give content to the category semi-subsistence agriculture and


demonstrate their capacity to support economically viable holdings, the
Romanian authorities implemented a targeted policy. Incentivizing measures were adopted to stimulate small producers to sell or rent out their
land so as to promote landholding accumulation and the establishment of
landholdings of intermediate size. Specific subsidies were put in place for
farmers who consolidated their economic position in this way and turned to
existing distribution networks. These measures achieved a limited degree of
success.
In 2005, the lifetime annuity system (renta viagera) was put in place with
the explicit aim of redrawing the structure of agriculture. Micro-proprietors
aged sixty-two or over were invited to hand over their land in exchange
for a sum of 100 per hectare per year, paid until the end of their life. An
alternative proposal enabled them to rent out their property for a sum of
50 per hectare per year. The project was based on demographic projections: at the beginning of the 2000s, 70 per cent of operators were more than

16

Antoine Roger

fifty-five years old and only 9 per cent were younger than thirty-five
(Cartwright, 2001).
To complement these schemes, the Romanian authorities proposed to assist viable farms to raise themselves to the economic level that would
enable them to acquire new land. In 2007, the Single Area Payment Scheme
(SAPS) was implemented, under the first pillar of the CAP. A lump sum
was paid for each hectare of eligible agricultural land within the limits of the national ceiling fixed by the accession agreements. A gradual
rise was planned, until full alignment with the payments made to farmers
in other EU member states would be reached. In order to avoid an angry
response from smallholders, the government was careful to avoid setting
criteria which would directly and explicitly exclude them from the SAPS
for example, requiring farms to exceed the threshold of 2 ESUs in order
to qualify for a subsidy. However, backdoor methods made it possible
to use equally severe criteria. An initial selection could be made through
the Agricultural Registry. According to the rules laid down by the EU, a
Romanian citizen qualified for the SAPS if he or she were able to produce the extract from the Registry which mentions the holding in question.
The Romanian authorities themselves fixed certain criteria for registration.
The property had to be at least 1 ha, and divided into plots of at least 0.3
ha (this threshold was later reduced to 0.1 ha for wine growing). Stock
rearers had to own at least three cattle, fifty sheep or fifty goats. On this
basis, 1.2 million farms were registered in June 2007. The Romanian Registry is the most extensive in the whole of the EU (in second place, Poland
has a little over 800,000 farms registered). This figure is nonetheless unbalanced. More than 900,000 farms registered have a surface area of 15
ha. The Registry only includes 29 per cent of the total number of holdings.
Nearly three million producers are excluded because they do not meet the
criteria which have been established, although they are engaged in farming
full-time.
We should also note that a holding that meets the threshold is not automatically eligible for EU funding. In order to put together an application, several
additional documents are required: a property title or a farming contract, but
also a proof of the type of crop grown on the holding (a crop insurance
policy, a statement attesting to the crop, a municipal certificate). Once the
application is registered, a producer must agree to remote-sensing checks.
Although each municipality has a land registry, the complexity of the rules
employed to return land to their owners in 1991 makes using it impossible
(Cartwright, 2001). Satellite photographs of plots of land are used to draw up
agricultural maps, on a municipality by municipality basis. Each candidate
for funding is issued a code which enables him or her to access an Internet
site and to identify the physical bloc (blocul fizic) under cultivation. These
procedures may take place via the local offices of the Agency for Funding and Intervention in Agriculture (Agentia de Plati si Interventie pentru
Agricultura). In the county of Vrancea, for example, six local offices have

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

17

computers available for consultation by farm operators. With little familiarity with IT tools and overwhelmed by the spatial representation of their
lands, those candidates with the least resources and skills make mistakes
which can only be corrected if inspectors help them out, following long,
complex procedures.
Arrangements for paying EU subsidies do not make direct use of the
demarcations set by the FADN: the thresholds and conditions fixed to
be eligible make no explicit distinction between professional and nonprofessional holdings. Categories backed up by EU statistics nevertheless
guide the policies that are implemented. Adopted under the National Programme for Rural Development and funded by the second pillar of the CAP,
parallel measures aim at stimulating the entrepreneurial spirit and consolidating farms placed in the semi-subsistence category. In order to apply for
this support, an operator must not only be registered with the Agricultural
Registry but also demonstrate his or her commitment to a change in the
system of production and to the introduction of efficient technologies.
According to ministerial calculations, a holding achieving 3 ESUs needs
between 2 and 4 more ESUs to achieve profitable insertion into commercial
channels.
Measure No. 141 of the National Programme for Rural Development is
to be understood from this perspective. Under the heading of Support for
semi-subsistence farms, it uses the FADN demarcations and offers an annual
lump sum of 1,500 to owners of agricultural holdings of between 2 and 8
ESUs who are younger than sixty-two years. All applicants have to draw up a
business plan for agricultural restructuring and operations (planul de afaceri pentru restructurarea exploatatiei agricole). This document has to set out
the current situation of the holding, restructuring objectives, the investments
necessary to achieve these, proposed management changes, training and
updating envisaged, the type and volume of production expected during and
after the funding period, their articulation with market opportunities, risks
anticipated and the strategies developed to address these. A demonstration
of the future economic viability of the holding is also required: it must be
based on an accurate assessment of the costs, benefits and means implemented to strengthen market orientation and compliance with European
standards. Finally, a time chart (graficul de timp) must be devised to show
the various different objectives and stages of reconstruction.
Applications are evaluated by the Ministry of Agriculture. Successful candidates make a commitment to taking courses in management and accountancy funded by Measure No. 111, titled Professional training, information
and dissemination of knowledge. An evaluation report must be drawn up
after three years: if the business plan has been scrupulously followed, if
a modernization process has been engaged, and if the farm holding has
earned at least 2 ESUs, funding can be extended for two years. Measure No.
112 of the National Plan for Rural Development supplements this scheme by
concentrating on setting up young farmers. It is aimed at farmers younger

18

Antoine Roger

than forty who, by means of a transfer of property, a concession or a minimum five-year lease succeed in managing a holding of between 6 and 40
ESUs. The beneficiaries commit to undertaking one of the training schemes
set up by Measure No. 111. They receive a baseline funding of 10,000 for
6 ESUs and 2,000 is paid for each additional ESU. A ceiling of 25,000
in total applies. This supplementary aid is paid out once the operator has
demonstrated his or her capacity to achieve additional profits (PNDR, 2007).
In order to promote these measures at local level, the Ministry of Agriculture recruited Project Managers. In Vrancea, two of these were appointed.
Between June 2008 and June 2009, they organized seminars in fifty-nine
municipalities. The operation was funded by the European Commission
under the title, New Steps in the Implementation of the CAP in Vrancea
County: Raising the Competitiveness of the Agricultural Sector. On 3 March
2009, a seminar was organized at the Vrtescoiu Elementary School in which
eighteen smallholders took part. Seated at tables normally used by the pupils,
they listened to a two-hour Power Point presentation. After a general presentation of the CAP, the opportunities afforded by the National Programme for
Rural Development were presented one by one to the growers. The talk emphasized the need to transform semi-subsistence farms into commercial
farms. Those present were invited to ask questions and request clarifications.
They took refuge in a polite silence.

CONCLUSION

This case study shows that the map of legibility and control of the FADN
has not successfully facilitated the establishment of a productivist agricultural mode of organization in Romania. Although the authorities have
adopted it and are gradually adapting to it, they have not been able to employ it as basis for an effective agricultural policy. Initially, rough and ready
distinctions were made in order to reassure European Commission officials.
As the prospects of integration into the EU became clearer, high-level EU
civil servants pushed for the implementation of the FADN. The threshold
of economic viability was arbitrarily set on the basis of the FADN. The
conceptual and statistical instruments used to track viability may have facilitated the work of the administration, but did not prove socially effective as
the dividing line employed is blurred by the continuum of practices observed
empirically on the ground. Consequently, from 2005 onwards, renewed efforts were made to circumscribe and isolate semi-subsistence agriculture,
by defining it as a temporary practice of on-farm consumption, thus making
it possible to envisage in the medium term an exclusively market-based orientation. This definition rapidly generated new categories on which to base
assessments and analyses. High-level civil servants and journalists focused
almost exclusively on the reforms needed to transform selected agricultural holdings into commercial farms that could be fully integrated into

Romanian Peasants into European Farmers?

19

existing distribution networks. Units finding themselves below the required


level were treated as a social problem.
With the selection process completed, targeted actions were adopted. The
objective was to consolidate the group of semi-subsistence farmers by
helping selected operators to improve their economic situation, to the detriment of the disqualified group of smallholders. On the basis of EU statistical
instruments, principles of selection were adopted that are still applicable:
farmers are required to draw upon eligibility criteria in order to get subsidies that provide them the capacity to generate a profit and to enlarge
their holdings. Marginalized by statistics and shut out of agricultural policies, those forms of production which do not meet the stipulated criteria
are destined to wither away, while the land thus freed up is to be taken
over by better-resourced units. However, smallholders have developed economic strategies to counter this development. Situated on the margins of
government measures and distribution networks which structure the official
economic organization, on-farm consumption remains an everyday practice.
Thus, although the quantification tools provided by the European Commission do indeed underpin Romanian agricultural policies, the findings of this
study demonstrate that they do not guarantee effectiveness.

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Antoine Roger is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po Bordeaux


(France), member of Institut universitaire de France and of Centre Emile
Durkheim (CNRS). His current work focuses on the representation of professional groups in France and Romania. His recent publications have appeared
in International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, Comparative European Politics and International Review of Sociology. He can be
contacted at e-mail: a.roger@sciencespobordeaux.fr