Romania is the country with the largest number of subsistence farms in the European Union. Practically, out of the 3.7 million farms from Romania, 3.3 million can be considered subsistence farms, having in view the extremely low value of the obtained productions. Although these small farms have a less important role on the markets, they are important in the rural world, as they provide food and social security for the population, contributing to environment preservation through the use of traditional production methods. The paper attempts to investigate the small farm role in the economy of rural areas and in the welfare of peasant households. The data source used were the Agricultural Census, for the analysis of small farm production structure and the Household Budget Survey in order to reveal the importance of own resources in the food consumption and incomes of rural households. The main conclusions of the paper refer to the strong production diversification on the small farms compared to the large farms, which are much more specialized. The analysis of food consumption behavior of the rural households reveals high shares of self-consumption in most products, a lower food diversification compared to urban households and a lower cost of calories in the rural households diet.
With almost half of the population living in the rural areas, rural development remains a challenge for Romania. As in many other countries from the European Union, the rural areas have lower incomes, lower employment rates and a relatively high dependence on the primary sector, compared to the urban regions. At the same time, there is a great diversity as regards the situation in the rural areas from the different regions of the country. In spite of this, agriculture contribution to the Gross Domestic Product and to population’s employment remains quite significant in Romania, although it has experienced a permanent decreasing tendency. The share of the population employed in agriculture in the European Union was 5.3% in 2011 (EC, 2012), while in Romania it was 32.6 % in the same year. For many farmers and their families, agriculture is an important income source, although it began to steadily lose its importance as main income source. Agriculture directly contributes to the welfare of rural households, due to the double status of rural households as producers and at the same time consumers of agricultural and food products. This characteristic is specific to the subsistence farm household pattern, which includes both the consumption decisions and the production decisions under a single framework.
Due to the high share of rural population, Romania is characterized by a mixed food consumption pattern. Thus, there is a consumption pattern of the urban population, in which the access to food is mainly restricted by the households’ purchasing power and the rural pattern, which includes the families that possess land and whose food situation depends both on their own farm production and on their purchasing power, resulting from the ratio of the prices of sold farm products to the prices of products bought on the market. It is obvious that these consumption patterns do not exist under a pure form, as even the urban population features a significant self-consumption, resulting directly or indirectly from the farming activity of the household members or their relatives.
The effects of transition on the dynamics of these consumption patterns have been materialized into the strengthening of the subsistence and autarchic character mainly for the rural households and mainly in the economic recession years, when the population’s survival strategies were based on the small peasant farm production. At present, although the food situation began to improve, this phenomenon is still a common practice.
However, even in the present situation, the cash flow is much lower in rural areas, as revealed by the economic variables, represented by the household incomes and expenditures, and there is a poor connection of rural households to the market.
In this study, we approach the households’ food security issue from the perspective of their access to the food necessary for a healthy living, by the identification and analysis of the economic factors conditioning it in the subsistence and semi-subsistence economy from Romania. As working method, we compared the population’s access to food on the urban and rural households, by using a set of relevant indicators mainly coming from the Household Budget Survey in the period 2001 – 2013. We mention that the indicators used are also included in the FAO methodology for the population food security evaluation. We refer here to the indicators of the households’ incomes and their evolution in relation to consumption prices, sources and nature of incomes, structure of consumption expenditures, and importance of household’s own resources in meeting the household’s food consumption needs. In order to complete the information on the household’s resources, we used data from the Farm Structure Surveys, in order to highlight the subsistence and semi-subsistence farm behaviour from our country. As the diversity of food is as important as the quantitative aspects related to food we calculated the Berry index for the evaluation of food diversity of households in the two residence areas. The following formula is used for the calculation of this index.
In order to evaluate this index we used the microdata from the Household Budget Survey, 1st quarter 2011, the number of possible food products being N=104. The Berry index takes values in the interval (0,1). BI=0, means that the household bought only one food product in the investigated period, and BI=1 means that the household equally bought all the 104 food products taken into consideration. The studies on food security indicate a positive correlations between the food diversity and the economic and demographic indicators, such as incomes, household head’ educational level, number of children, residence area (Thiele, S. at all, 2003).
3.1. Rural household incomes
The interdependence between agriculture and the rural world starts from the position that this economic branch has in our country in the rural employment and providing livelihood means for the rural people. The largest part of the rural population is employed in agriculture (55% of the employed population in the rural area is working in agriculture), and the farming incomes are essential for the subsistence of rural households’ members. Agriculture contributes to the rural households incomes mainly under the form of incomes in kind and cash incomes from the farming activity, i.e. from the sale of agricultural products or under the form of payment for the work in agriculture; however, these amounts are quite small. The share of incomes in kind in the incomes of rural households decreased from 46.5% in the year 2001 to 28.0% in the years 2008-2009, and the share of cash incomes from agriculture was maintained at 9-10%.