NIAB Scientists Set Up Experimental Site in Moldova

1 Jul 2008

A team of top scientists from the Cambridge-based National Institute of Agricultural Botany has set up an experimental farm in a village in Moldova, Europe’s poorest country.

The local mayor and landowner, as well as villagers from the community of Burlacu, (which has a population of 1,200), joined in the project. During the week long visit, two polytunnels were erected – and another nine were given to growers for food production and extending seasonal growth.

Maize and grasses were planted for field experimentation on the two hectare plot of land donated for the project, and vegetable seeds were given to local smallholders. The team left behind a group of villagers who were trained to continue the field trials and technical work.

The region suffers extreme poverty and adverse weather conditions. Last year the wells (the main source of water) dried up for the first time in 70 years. It left crops dead in the fields, there was no water for vegetables in the family gardens and the animals, with no fodder to eat, had to be killed. The mini research site will extend the growing season over which food may be sustainably produced. The trials will look at drought tolerant varieties and the potential of new crops not traditionally grown, such as perennial ryegrasses to produce better quality grass leys and clovers to fix nitrogen and increase protein in animal diets.

The NIAB team who travelled to the former Communist run country in May, were Don Pendergrast, Livestock Crops Manager, and Mike Day, who is responsible for the vegetable trials programme at NIAB. The trip had originally been planned for January, but was cancelled due to severe snow storms which made the region impossible to reach from the UK. NIAB also donated a delivery of 40 computers for local schools and warm winter clothes for villagers.

The trip was organised by the charity CEEM – Central and Eastern European Ministries, whose secretary John Law was a former NIAB scientist. Terry Rugg, a CEEM IT consultant, also joined the trip.

Mr Pendergrast said: “The trip was really productive, providing us with an opportunity to introduce local producers to new species and new varieties that could significantly improve local productivity. The local people were incredibly supportive of our venture and we were able to talk about many aspects of crop production, giving them new ideas and insights. The trip was certainly well worth while and I really enjoyed the work and friendships built. I hope the initial work we have done will continue to prove productive and beneficial for all concerned.”

Mr Law said: “CEEM has been working in this area for more than six years. This CEEM/NIAB joint trip allowed us to be accepted by the villagers as we were seen by many local families; visiting their homes, listening to their problems, and working in the fields just as they were. As a result they opened up to us, offered us hospitality, and made us so welcome. I’m sure that both CEEM and NIAB can be well satisfied with this trip and look forward to an ongoing relationship in the years ahead with confidence.”

Further information is available from Don Pendergrast at NIAB or Press consultant Ellee Seymour on 01353 648564 or 07939 811961.

Or John Law, Secretary of Central and Eastern European Ministries, can be contacted on 01480 394321.