Using the market to catalyse community cooperation in the threatened farming villages of Transylvania

Transylvania's small-scale farming communities need to cooperate to survive. We have inspired cooperation by using market innovations.

Photo of Cristian Gherghiceanu
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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name

Fundatia ADEPT Transilvania

Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $250k - $500k

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 500 - 1,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Nutrition

Headquarters location: Country

  • Romania

Headquarters location: City

Saschiz, Mures

Location(s) of impact

Romania: Tarnava Mare rural area, town of Sighisoara, cities of Sibiu, Targu Mures and Cluj-Napoca.


Facebook URL 13,000 likes

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Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

Tarnava Mare area, 85,000 ha, is a farmed landscape of global importance, from natural and cultural points of view. It supports over 30,000 people living in small-scale farming communities. But most people are living below the poverty line, and young people are leaving the area. The small-scale farmers need to be inspired to work together, to breathe life back into these communities, make them economically viable. Milk, the main source of income, is no longer profitable. Better milk prices can offer a future.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

ADEPT analysed social and economic problems, which were linked and required multi-disciplinary solutions. Main innovation was to solve the problem at several different levels at once working with local farmers and communities to improve quality of production by micro-producers; improve the way micro-producers work together to achieve quantity and quality required for marketing; improve management of village associations, so that members trust each other; improve the benefits of associations (discredited under communism) so that farmers had incentives to participate; use associations as channels for marketing and for information; improve government support for associations. So ADEPT used environmental, production, marketing and political skills at the same time so that individuals had incentive and trust to cooperate. NEXT STEP: local processing (cheese and yoghurt) by associations, to improve incomes and social cooperation, achieving economic and social sustainability in the area.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

1. Association gained access to common grazing payments: 54 farmers receive an extra 75,000 Euros/year 2. Milk hygiene training improved milk quality. Village milk collection points allowed villages to offer quantity as well as quality to processors 3. Negotiation with processors doubled the milk price received by villagers - an extra 150,000 Euros/year for 200 farmers in 5 associations. 4. Villagers are now keeping more cows, becoming more prosperous and proud of their products 5. Higher incomes, young people staying, better atmosphere in the villages because of cooperation 6. Grasslands again under sustainable management 7. Branding has improved markets, improved consumer awareness of importance of the area (cultural heritage) and links between local/natural food, and healthy food for your family. This has given rise to further market opportunities 8. Education projects for over 250 children have made the importance of nature and good nutrition clear to the next generation.

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

The initiative is supported by a range of donations and business income: 1. Individual donations or gifts 5% 2. Grants 60% 3. Corporate CSR donations 20% 4. Earned income 15% We have used a variety of funding sources, which reflect our multi-disciplinary approach: EU, Norwegian and Swiss green enterprise funding; CSR funding from Orange Romania and other companies; private donors. We like corporate funding as corporates have a practical/results-oriented/economic approach. Our experience with phase 1 of the project shows that income from higher milk prices provide sustainable farm communities. Our discussions with retailers show that cheese production will be even more profitable once initial investments have been made. See also under 'How is the initiative funded' section below.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

We have an open mind about solutions: we are a conservation organisation but use commercial and social means to achieve holistic solutions. We ensure that nature conservation actions bring local benefits. We won first prize at EU level for best project bringing socio-economic benefits to communities in a protected area. Only one village in Romania getting grants for common grazing - by our policy work. We combine innovation with tradition e.g. use of smartphone apps to market tradition.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

Before 2004, we had worked in more conventional conservation organisations. But local benefits were low, local people were 'consulted' but not really involved. In 2004 we realised that local support was essential to protect these farmed landscapes; so we worked with local communities as the main means of achieving the triple benefit of ecological conservation, sustainable production and shared economic benefit. The "Aha!" moment : seeing the failure of conventional approaches which push for either conservation or local economic development. There is no conflict between these: they are mutually dependent. From this, we began to work really actively with local communities and opinion leaders. A dam was broken. We were no longer seen as trying to impose an ideal solution from outside. We were seen as genuinely working in partnership with local communities for their benefit.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Social media

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

Activities are centred on the associations, to build their ability to manage themselves: training includes good transparent financial management to overcome distrust among members; how to market and negotiate on behalf of members; how to deliver useful things for their members, such as training courses and farm visits, as well as better prices for members. This creates a virtuous circle, because trust and genuine benefits increase membership numbers and active participation, leading to even more trust and benefits, and so on. ADEPT has carried out 2 or 3 training courses, 2 or 3 days 6 hours per day, for 5 farmer associations each year, in three years 2015-7. We developed the courses in consultation with the associations to make sure they were relevant. Courses are given in each village, sometimes on a farm (where practical production methods are demonstrated) and sometimes in the village hall. Each association has average 40 members, so we have directly trained over 200 farmers who represent their families (average 4 in a family so we have indirectly benefited 800 family members) . Trainings are carried out by financial/marketing/production specialists, who develop practical solutions to real problems in each community; usually by ADEPT staff, and also by outside specialists who ADEPT brings in for certain modules. The trainings are popular, because they are useful. The associations, once trained, will become self-sustaining and can continue the work in the future.

Focus area

  • Rural Development

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

ADEPT focussed on farmer associations as the ideal channel to deliver a range of economic and social benefits, which are shared equally by all members. So far, 200 farmers/800 family members enjoy improved access to market - but there are wider benefits, see section below. The project has: 1. improved access to market for milk: improved ability to negotiate with processors doubled milk price - extra 150,000 Euros/year for 200 farmers in 5 associations 2. assisted economic development by increasing support payments - 75,000 Euros/year for 54 farmers. Now we have created the precedent, this will spread to other villages in next years 3. as a result of increased public awareness of the unique characteristics of the area, from publicity, marketing, and festivals we have arranged in the area to celebrate local products, visitor numbers have risen from 2,000 in 2012 to 10,000 in 2017, bringing 250,000 Euros/year extra income to a range of villagers including jam/honey makers, guest house owners, craftsmen. 4. women are empowered as they often are involved in association management, and are income earners specially through guest houses, sales of local products. Women attend training courses, and are often the most innovative thinkers 5. there is a broader impact on nutrition as consumers widely in Romania get access to better quality milk. We plan to develop other dairy products linked to the area image, such as yoghurt and cheese, which will contribute to healthy eating.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

A key point is that the local economy is based largely on dairy products. 90% of villagers own a few cows, depend on milk for their income. Problems with milk sales affect the whole community. Working together is the solution. In our training of associations, we have stressed to the managers that equitable sharing of benefits, and transparent management, are key to the survival of the associations. Early on we experienced failure/collapse of an association owing to lack of trust: other associations saw that it was in everyone's individual as well as community interest for the associations to succeed. In impact section above we described direct economic benefits - increased sales and increased prices. Through the project, direct and indirect benefits are spread widely in farming communities, as a range of knock-on effects occur: more visitors to the area; increased sales of local products and of guest house and guiding services, and increased community cohesion and optimism.

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

Finance section above shows analysis of current funding. Our future financial sustainability plan is to shift from grants/donations to earned income. We can do this because the up-front costs are training, and basic equipment for milk processing/cheese-making; once these costs have been covered, the business side will be sustainable and will not rely on external financing. But these village enterprises are small scale, and profits relatively small. It is hard for such enterprises to secure loans. So it is key to have the initial seed money donated or lent on an easy repayment basis. The role of the NGO is to help the communities get past initial development stage, get access to seed funding, and reach sustainability without debt burden.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

If we could win the CSV prize, it would be a big bonus for our regional and global recognition. We would use this to spread our model more widely, not just in Romania, but also in other countries. We think that our ideas are unique in the way they are put together. Other projects assist small enterprises, or communities, but our project links business/sustainable incomes, communities, equitable sharing of benefits, sustainable development/land use, public recognition of traditional farmed landscapes/healthy food. It is this mixing of different aspects, in a way that they all support each other, which we will spread more widely using CSV prize as a vehicle for dissemination.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

If we were able to win the CSV prize, we would use it to kick-start the next phase of the project, which is to establish a micro-cheese plant. The initial cost is high, but if we could fund the start-up costs (training and equipment) it could serve a wide area, offering higher prices for milk that was produced in a certain way, further raising the profile of the area and other income sources, and further strengthening the identity and community cohesion of the area. This would create a wonderful model for community-based sustainable development, which could be replicated more widely. We plan to move these products from 'niche' to mainstream, by dealing in a creative way with supermarkets/large retailers. Nestle connection will assist this.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

The first step is to get the 5 communities in our current project fully self-sustaining, based on acceptable income levels and good management. We have achieved this in one of the communities, and this needs to be consolidated in the other 4, in next 2 years. At the same time, we have already been invited to replicate our village-scale milk enterprise ideas in other parts of Romania and internationally. We are seeking funds to enable us to do this. As we mentioned, the role of the NGO (ADEPT) is to help the communities/farmer associations to get over the initial governance/training/investment hurdles: once over these, they can manage themselves. We plan in Romania to create a family of enterprises under an umbrella 'High Nature Value farming' brand which has already been designed and registered. Thus, new small-enterprises based on the model will benefit from market and advisory support from other members of the High Nature Value 'family'. Move products from niche to mainstream.

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

Team consists of 12 full time employees: executive director, finance director, technical director, 4 marketing and farm advisory specialists, and 5 support staff. These are supplemented by outside specialists who deliver modules on more technical subjects such as accounts and hygiene legislation. The range of skills is uniquely inter-disciplinary for such a small team. 11 of the 12 team members are from Transylvania, and 8 of the 12 are from the Tarnava Mare area, which is why the project enjoys local trust and is so responsive to local needs.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

For its unique local and interdisciplinary approach, ADEPT won first prize at EU level for innovative farmer advisory services (2012 and 2013) and first prize at EU level for best project bringing socio-economic benefits to communities in a protected area (2014). ADEPT also won several prizes in Romania for best national CSR project, 2010-2017.

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

ADEPT has become one of the most influential farmland conservation NGOs in Europe, partly because of its successes with local projects on the ground, and partly because it has broken down the barriers between farmers and conservationists, which have blocked policy reforms and innovative sustainable farming initiatives in the past. We are a leading exponent of conservation/sustainable land use supporting (not hindering) community development; of innovation supporting (not damaging) traditional management and communities; and of modern marketing supporting quality of products. ADEPT has been active at EU level, and national level in Romania, advising on policy formation. We are also in dialogue with supermarkets about mainstream marketing.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018
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Attachments (4)

ADEPT innovation.pdf

This poster shows how ADEPT has designed and used a virtuous circle of integrated activities to achieve social and economic benefits in the rural communities of Transylvania. Conservation of natural and cultural heritage is always based on community development and improved family incomes and health. ADEPT helps communities get into a position where they can help themselves create a prosperous future, based on the special landscapes in which they live, and which they maintain.

ADEPT intervention strategy Oct 2017.pdf

This document shows how ADEPT analysed the challenges facing the communities in the area, and developed a complex response across many disciplines - nature conservation , farming, marketing, policy, innovative communications, local capacity building - in order to respond to the challenges in a way that provided community benefit and resilient solutions where economy, society and nature are mutually supporting.

ADEPT cheese concept note Oct 2017+.pdf

This concept note, for a cheese plant in one of the villages, shows how we plan to build on the success we have had with our milk collection and milk marketing project, in building community prosperity and social resilience. We have seen how projects providing local benefit through cooperative actions have many social and economic benefits. So we will build on this to make the effect even stronger, as a resilient local community initiative and as a model for other villages.

Adept-10year-report _0414-lores.pdf

This report describes the value of this European landscape, why it is important to save it, and how ADEPT has worked for 10 years with local communities to give the area and its people a new lease of life in the 21st century.


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Photo of Sebastian Gatica

Congrats for your initiative and keep up the good work. Best


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