The Străisteni “jewel in the crown” makes easier plums’ road to export
June 15, 2023
Valeriu Jalobă, a mechanical engineer from Străisteni village, Strășeni district, lost his job in the 90’s. At the time, this looked like the end of the world, but it turned out to be the beginning of a new professional life. Since he could not find a new job, Valeriu had finally decided to start a business in agriculture. He needed to earn a living and support his three children, and at the same time to pay back the increasing debts. Although he was not passionate about farming, he had entrepreneurship in his blood. There was an abandoned plum collection and drying enterprise in the village, and he had some ideas on how to make use of it. So, he bought the enterprise and the orchard next to it on credit and set off on an adventure that has been continuing for more than 20 years now.
Valeriu Jalobă could write a book on his professional reconversion and the beginnings of his business. He started with a few acres of orchard for which he had to take a loan and now he is the president of the largest association of plum producers in Moldova. Fruitmol Group, founded nine years ago, is currently made up of seven fruit producers which own and manage a total of 180 hectares of orchards.
The association has enabled the producers to jointly process their produce and to find their way to external markets. Together, the association members built a facility for packing, sorting and processing dried fruit.
Two years ago, Stepan Plațînda, a fruit producer from the left bank of the Nistru River, joined the association. The members decided then to apply for a grant competition conducted by the “Advanced cross-river capacities for trade (AdTrade)” UNDP project, aimed at helping farmers build partnerships and apply innovative technologies to enhance their competitiveness and export capacities.
As a result, the member farmers won a US$50,000 grant from Sweden and United Kingdom under the UNDP/AdTrade project, to which they contributed with US$37,000 and purchased high-performance plum pitting equipment, the only one of its kind in Moldova. The machine was imported from Argentina and is the “jewel in the crown” of the association. It is special due to its productivity and accuracy.
“This equipment eliminates the risk of having bits of stone left in the plums, which is the most important requirement for export. It also requires less human intervention, which is an important factor given the fact that it is more and more difficult to find employees. At the same time, the equipment increased the production capacity, and this implies a higher return rate,” says Valeriu Jalobă.
Thanks to this, the plums comply with the requirements and standards of European buyers, and pitting the plums takes less time and effort than before.
“Before, we needed eight workers, but now the same workload is handled by this equipment and two operators. This does not mean that we fired personnel. On the contrary, we created five new jobs, since thanks to this equipment we concluded new contracts and the workload increased. At the same time, the tasks of the workers became easier,” states Valeriu.
Now, the factory processes more than 1,000 tons of plums every year, and 95 per cent of them go to export. Valeriu notes that the dried fruits are delivered to more than ten countries, including Romania, Italy, the U.S., Mongolia and Saudi Arabia.
“If you produce quality goods, buyers will find you. This was also our case. When sales to the Russian Federation were suspended, our Italian partners showed up and we have been working with them ever since.”
The financial support offered by Sweden and United Kingdom as part of the UNDP/AdTrade project helped to develop the association, which became unique thanks to its technological performance. Valeriu and his partners are convinced that this is an important step towards increasing exports.
This is also mentioned by Stepan Plațînda, one of Valeriu’s partners, who has now received green light to export his produce to European countries. Stepan is one of the largest fruit producers from the left bank of the Nistru River. In 2021, the entrepreneur managed to obtain the GLOBALG.A.P. certificate for stone fruits.
“Thanks to the support offered, we were able to develop sustainable partnerships with European partners. Until now, we had never exported to the EU. In 2019-2020 there was a major drought, and it was a difficult period, financially. Thanks to this assistance, it was easier to overcome these issues, too,” explains Stepan Plațînda.
Valeriu Jalobă and Fruitmol Group members have big plans for the future - they intend to conquer European market with the taste and quality of “Made in Europe” produce. The first steps have already been made. Now they need to put in a lot of effort and dedication to reach their goals.