Sustainable (organic) farming could be a solution to the many problems in the agricultural sector. The implementation of such a concept requires efficient management of agricultural crops, careful monitoring of soil resources, and of the dynamics of crop growth. All this would be possible if drones were applied. The views were expressed at a round table focused on options and ideas for smart agriculture in Moldova. The event, organized by the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) "Viitorul", showcased two studies: "Agro-industrial complex: benchmarks for investment and export growth" and "The use of drones in the development of smart agriculture".
IDIS "Viitorul" expert Viorel Chivriga, who presented the study on the agro-industrial complex, stated that the vegetable sector is characterized by low yields and very low yields in most agricultural crops compared to European countries. It iss vulnerable to natural hazards. In years of drought, with frosts and other natural disasters, there was lacking an effective mechanism to reduce the impact of such risks in agriculture. At the same time, the Moldovan agricultural market is characterized by instability, strong price fluctuations, lack of balance between supply and demand of products, labor shortages, and frequent threats to the country's food security.
Viorel Chivriga also stated that the livestock sector has undergone colossal metamorphoses during the transition to a market economy. Between 1980 and 2022, the cattle herd shrank from a 1.1 million headcount to a 104,000 headcount. The pig population has fallen from over 2 million to almost 348 000. The number of sheep is estimated to have fallen somewhat more slowly, from 1.2 million animals to 433.8 thousand. Increases are recorded in the number of goats, from 19 thousand to 140 thousand; rabbits, from 365 thousand to 385 thousand; and bee families, from 168 to 191 thousand families.
A relevant sector for investments and investors is the small-scale primary industry for processing raw materials of plant and animal origin. In the first case, the ongoing trend of reorientation of exporters to other markets is visible but slow and thus endangering the surplus of particularly perishable products existing on the domestic market. Another sector that is of interest for investment is the livestock sector, whose production does not even come close to meeting domestic demand. Possible areas for investor interest are the creation of irrigation systems, the provision of renewable energy, and services to farmers - for farm monitoring to intervention in case of need.
As far as organic farming is concerned, the expert stated that the approach has been little promoted and has even disappeared from the authorities' attention recently. The areas that are now certified as organic are fewer than they were estimated to be around 2010. "The Ministry of Agriculture today is absent from the ongoing organic farming processes. To focus on organic farming we need to have a market. We do not provide the right information to the population about organic agricultural products," said the expert.
According to Dorin Afanas, IDIS "Viitorul" associate expert, who presented the study on the use of drones in the development of smart agriculture, sustainable agriculture could be one of the solutions to the many problems in the sector today. It aims at production with competitive results, with an environmentally friendly attitude, using integrated systems based on the scientific, balanced use of all technological components. The expert also stated that the implementation of such a concept requires efficient management of crops, careful monitoring of soil resources and the dynamics of the vegetation state of crops, and depending on the needs identified, plants can be provided with the optimal amounts of water or chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizers and pesticides). "Out of the numerous area of applicability of unmanned aerial vehicles, the research of this paper focuses on the implementation of these systems in agriculture. There is a wide variety of applications of unmanned aerial vehicles in agriculture, which perform work fully automated or even autonomously, from the field inspection phase, and treatment, to the creation of field productivity maps. Unmanned aerial vehicles are also known as drones. Physical work is replaced by intellectual work, with a reduction in human resources, and providing the conditions for increasing productivity, reducing production costs, and minimizing negative environmental impacts" said Dorin Afanas.
"The use of drones is becoming increasingly familiar throughout the world, increasingly practiced in the development of agriculture, in the management of agricultural land. Drones have become a revolutionary tool, and we need to take into account all these positive aspects of drone use and implement the system in Moldova. We need to bring modern trends here, at home" said Liubomir Chiriac, Executive Director of IDIS "Viitorul".
Valentin Ciubotaru, director of AO BIOS, stated that he had recently conducted a study on organic farming and developed the organic farming program in Moldova, but had to be guided by both the National Development Strategy and the Agriculture Development Strategy, as the latter did not transpose the provisions of the National Development Strategy as required by European directives. "We are now EU accession candidates and we should harmonize all these frameworks. If at the national level we have a strategy, why is it not reflected in the Agricultural Strategy? This is a problem. In the Republic of Moldova, there is, unfortunately, a lot of falsification concerning the certification of organic products and basically, this idea of organic farming is compromised. In the end, it is our health that is at stake" said Valentin Ciubotaru.
Former agriculture minister Vasile Bumacov, now director of CNFA Moldova, stated that drones have a future when it comes to high-value agriculture and the ministry must facilitate their use. "I believe that farmers in our country love modern approaches. Farmers were among the first engaged in technology transfer and they will continue by employing drones in agriculture. But companies need to be prepared not just to import this technology, but also to train the farmer," stated the former agriculture minister.
Mihaela Cojocaru, Communication and Knowledge Management Specialist at the International Fund for Agricultural Development's Consolidated Programme Implementation Unit, noted that under the SKiM project, several events related to knowledge management have been organized involving three countries - the Republic of Moldova, Morocco, and Sudan - to promote knowledge management, including in agriculture, and to bring innovational approaches in agriculture.
The roundtable was held in the framework of the project "Strengthening Knowledge Management for Greater Development Effectiveness in the Near East, North Africa, Central Asia and Europe (SKiM)" funded by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The project also collaborates with international partners such as CIHEAM-Bari, PROCASUR, Virginia Tech, as well as National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), governments, and agricultural extension services in Moldova, Morocco, and Sudan.