As late as 1860, much of Bessarabia was waste or grazing land; only 1,210,000 desyatins of land (a desyatin = 2.7 acres) were under cultivation; by 1881, this had grown to 1,671,000, and in 1909 it reached 2,319,700. About 3/4 of the entire area is arable, and 5/8 is in cereals. The figures for recent years follow (in hectares, each of 2.47 acres, and car-loads of ten metric tons each):
Indian corn is the chief grain; corn meal mush, the famous "mamaliga," is the national dish of the Roumanian peasant, as it was of the American Indian and the early New Englanders. Wheat runs corn a close second; barley has always been extensively cultivated; rye has been yielding to oats in recent years. Some tobacco is grown; under the Bessarabian Moldavian Republic, thirteen small government tobacco manufactories were established. Cotton has been experimented with recently, but without much success. Sunflowers are widely grown for their seeds, and there is increasing cultivation of alfalfa and other forage crops. Cole-seed (for colza oil) is also an important crop.
Bessarabia's chief value, in Russian eyes, lap in her vineyards; she produced half the total amount of Russian wine. Grape-vines cover 100,000 hectares in Bessarabia. Table grapes grow to perfection; in the late fall of 1919, I bought a bunch on the street in Kishineff which recalled the Vale of Eshkol; it was over a foot in length. Bessarabian wines are famous; the Cristi vineyards at Romaneshti supplied the Czar's table, and are now Roumanian Crown Domain; they have the oldest Bessarabian grapevine nursery. This lies in Orhei County; so does the Bucovatz-Calarashi vineyard and nursery. Near Kishineff is Costiugeni, with its wines; there are two schools of viticulture, in Kishineff and in Saharna (Soroca Co.). Other well-known centers are the French-Swiss vineyards of Saba, near Akkerman; the Cavallioti vineyards at Silimon, Tziganca and Viltosu (Cahul) ; those of M. Efremov at Leontievo (Bender), M. Silos at Saseni and Pauleshti, Dr. Tumarkin and M. Capitanopulos near Kishineff ; M. Terentiev at Purcari (Akkerman), M. Sinadino at Viscautzi (Kishineff ), M. Eremeieff at Akkerman, M. Mimi at Bolboca (Bender), and many others; the Reidel Co. manufactures tartaric acid at Kishineff. There was an excellent exhibition of these wine-growers in the Kishineff Exposition of 1925.
The average annual production of wine is about five million decaliters. Unfortunately the growers were hard hit by the droughts of 1924 (production only two million) and 1925; and the economic dislocation of the new frontiers still presses severely upon them. These wines depended upon the Russian market, now closed to them, and that of Poland, where French wines have a tariff preference; while in Roumania itself they have to meet the competition of the Tokay and other wines produced in Transylvania. Abroad, there is overproduction also, due to the disappearance of the United States market and other factors; so that the Bessarabian wine-grower faces a dubious prospect. In August 1926, however, there was held a joint Polish-Roumanian convention, arranging for the import of Bessarabian fruit into Poland, in return for the purchase of railway material from Poland. Wine brandy may have to meet the government prohibition scheme, which proposes to cut down the production a quarter every three years, so that after a dozen years the "tzuica" which every farmer distils from his plums would be the only hard liquor left in Roumania; it would be illegal to sell even that. The legislation of August 1926, regulating the transitional period, increased the taxation on strong drink, and restricted the number of saloons to one to every 150 families; it facilitated the opening of restaurants selling wine and beer with meals, in place of saloons. As in the Province of Quebec, the discouragement of strong liquor is aiding the sale of wine.
Bessarabia is also an excellent fruit country; about 100,000 acres are under fruit. In the old days, about 1400 car-loads of fruit (10 tons each) were exported every year to the great Russian centers; the average quantities of the different fruits were: of apples, about 2,400,000 lbs.; walnuts, 9,400,000 lbs.; pears, 600,000; peaches, 5,300,000; plums and prunes, 3,100,000; grapes, 10,000,000. Some success has been achieved in finding markets in Austria and Germany; 180 tenton carloads of prunes were exported in 1925, at a price running from 95,000 to 122,000 lei per carload ($485-610), according to quality, and about 250 carloads of walnuts, at 270,000 ($1350). The 1926 walnut crop was abundant and high-priced; nuts sold as high as 300,000 lei ($1600) the carload, and Calarashi (Orhei), center of the trade, was a busy spot. With improvement in transportation and the lowering of tariff barriers, the Bessarabian fruit-grower will prosper; the country is a veritable California.
Like our own Plains States, Bessarabia passed during the nineteenth century from grazing to agriculture; and now there is a tendency in the other direction. The Beasarabian peasant does not use oxen as much as other Roumanians; there are about 250 per 1000 of population in Bessarabia, as against 350 in Old Roumania; but the proportion of horses is higher-165 and 105 respectively-although Bessarabia stood very low among the Russian provinces in this respect. The Roumanian was primarily a shepherd; during the Middle Ages it was the shepherd who kept the language and traditions intact; and there are to-day 50% more sheep in Bessarabia than in 1914, under Russian rule. The same proportion holds with horses and swine; Dr. Evans sees in this a sequel of the great increase in peasant proprietorship. I subjoin totals of the domestic animals (in thousands):
The figures of 1925 reflect the two-year drought, which forced many farmers to sell or butcher their stock, for lack of forage. There are besides a few thousand water-buffalo, and a few hundred donkeys and mules. Goats also are relatively scarce. Poultry-raising offers many inducements, and many eggs are exported to Germany. In 1910, the official Russian figures gave over two million domestic fowl, over 425,000 geese, 340,000 ducks and about 100,000 turkeys. At the Kishineff Exposition of 1925, there were exhibited excellent Black Minorcas, White Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Barred Plymouth Rocks, etc. Bessarabian wax and honey have been famous for centuries; and the government is promoting silk-culture, on the lines followed in the Banat.
The Bessarabian hills were once heavily forested; but reckless exploitation under the Russian regime left the country almost treeless, and the war completed the devastation, since no other fuel was available. Today, only about 7% of the area of Bessarabia is in woods, and much of this consists of scrub-oak. The Roumanian Forestry Dep't has set to work to improve conditions, with Transylvania as a model. The districts of Kishineff, Orhei, and Hotin have about 20% of their area under forest; Akkerman, only 2%. As a result of the scarcity of wood and the high freight rates for coal, I find in the Kishineff correspondence of the Bucharest financial journal, Argus, under date of Nov. 19, 1926, the complaint so familiar in our own prairie states-that with wood selling at 22 lei (12 ¢) the pood (36 lbs.), and corn selling at 14, it pays to burn corn for fuel.
Bessarabian lakes and rivers, and the Black Sea along its coast, are full of fish, particularly sturgeon (whose roe, the caviar, is in great demand), carp, pike, pike-perch, herring, etc. Fishing is under government supervision, and is capable of much development.Next Chapter Previous Chapter
Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents