The global award in photography and sustainability

Rena Effendi

Transylvania: Built on Grass

For centuries, the small villages in Transylvania have maintained hay meadows, raised cattle and operated self-sustainable farms. The agrarian fairy tale that is extinct in Western Europe still exists here, where young boys learn to cut and rake hay by hand, all village women learn to weave, and men can build a house from the materials they have to hand.

Having survived the collectivisation of Ceauşescu’s Communist regime, this fragile rural environment now faces the modern threat of industrialisation and globalisation – the result of Romania’s 2007 entry into the European Union. Today, this world is on the brink of extinction, as local small-scale farmers cannot compete with European imports or industrialised farming methods and youths leave the countryside for work in the cities of Western Europe.

As horses are traded in for tractors and wooden houses and gates are disassembled and sold off for furniture parts, this pastoral dream is vanishing. However, when you see eighty-year-old men cut hay by hand you realise that these Transylvanian people will farm until they die. They are so deeply connected to the land and with them remains a hope that this traditional way of life will somehow persevere. A window into a world defined by traditional belief systems and respect for the environment, these proud, and mostly hidden faces deserve to be recognised before progress continues its march through the pristine meadows of Transylvania.