Veteran farmers with pioneering spirit are pushing for progress 

Elena and Constantin Munteanu at their hazelnut plantation. Photo: Ljiljana Mitevska 
Elena and Constantin Munteanu at their hazelnut plantation. Photo: Ljiljana Mitevska 
As co-founders of the Nocciole cooperative for hazelnut and almond production in Moldova, Elena and Constantin Munteanu were pioneers in succeeding to round up the cooperative’s production process and get their product to the end users. Now they are going one step further, trying to diversify the business by producing value-added products such as healthy, low sugar biscuits with almonds and hazelnuts as base ingredients. 

It’s truly a heartwarming feeling to see this elderly charming couple walking along their plantation with hazelnut trees, carefully observing the condition of the nuts. Elena and Constantin Munteanu are finally able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. They have been working hard for a long time and they have achieved plenty, although at times things haven’t been easy and smooth.

They are actually one of the pioneers in the agri-business in Moldova. Since the early years of independence, back in 1993, despite the difficulties and the high interest rates, they took a loan to start their own business. First, they began working in the area of processing vegetable oil, then growing wheat and now they are diversifying their business with hazelnut production.

“We don’t have a big production, but we wanted to join in with other hazelnut and almond producers in order to be able to secure joint placement and better price,” says Elena. She and her husband Constantin are one of the co-founders of the Nocciole cooperative that they established in 2014 under the guidance of We Effect’s partner organization, the National Farmers Federation of Moldova (NFFM).

Elena and Constantin Munteanu looking at the yield. Photo by Ljiljana Mitevska, We Effect

Constantin has benefited from study visits organized by NFFM to Italy and Serbia where he learned about the practical aspects related to growing hazelnuts. Currently, he is the local consultant for hazelnut production. As a knowledgeable person in this sphere he was able to steer the cooperative’s efforts into the right direction. And there are plenty of results to prove this.

“Now we have reached hazelnut production on industrial level,” Constantin proudly points out to this pioneering achievement since they are one of the first cooperatives in Moldova that have managed to round up the entire production process. They have all the equipment and machinery to clean, dry and package the nuts which they are selling in the shops across Moldova. There is also a small quantity that they export.

But this is not where Constantin and Elena stop. They are very forward thinking. “If you sell only hazelnuts and almonds you get lower price, but if you produce biscuits you get added value. That’s why we need to diversify,” says Elena. The plan is to use the cooperative facility also for producing biscuits with almonds and hazelnuts as the base ingredients, but healthier variations with less sugar.

Elena Munteanu checking the condition of the hazelnuts. Photo by Ljiljana Mitevska, We Effect

Even in this segment Constantin is on top of the situation. He is a man not only of great life experience, but also of expertise, extremely capable when it comes to constructing machinery. He has already made a prototype of the machine for producing biscuits himself. “The machines are very expensive, so sometimes I construct them from parts of other machinery,” he says.

The lack of modern equipment and mechanization, but also the difficult access to loans and finances are challenges that almost all Moldovan farmers face.  That’s why NFFM are lobbying for changing the method of receiving state subsidies for equipment and implementation of advance payment for purchasing equipment.