A World Without Hunger - Conference in Serbia

Sustainable development conference by National Geographic, agreement reached between farmers and ministry, rising prices and production costs and the best innovator startups - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Serbia

Close-up of the National Geographic logo on a table. People talk in the background.
Beeld: ©National Geographic Srbija
The third conference of National Geographic Serbia dedicated to the UN Sustainable Development Goals held in Belgrade

“World without hunger” - National Geographic Conference in Serbia

Last week, National Geographic Serbia organized its third conference within the scope of their project Yellow Frame focusing on the second of UN sustainable development goals : “world without hunger”. During four panels debates experts discussed how world hunger could be ended, the importance of sustainable agriculture, the impact of climate change and food safety issues in supply chains.

Mr. Koen van Ginneken, Agricultural Counsellor [GKv1] at the Embassy of the Netherlands participated in the panel on sustainable agriculture production together with Predrag Klepic from Al Dahra Serbia, Ivanka Stojnic from Nestle Serbia and professor Zorica Rankovic Vasic, from the Faculty of Agriculture Belgrade.

Panellists discussed the importance of sustainable agricultural production in the light of ever-present climate change . Climate change in Serbia is noticeable through more frequent and more intense weather events than even a few years ago. The increase in annual and seasional temperatures lead to frequent and more intensive droughts, floods, hail and cold snaps just at the sensitive vegetational periods of crops, explained professor Zorica Rankovic Vasic. The implementation of good agricultural practices by the application of smart solutions like precision irrigation, precision nutrition, soil conditioning as well as the use of new plant varieties were examples shared by panelists as good tools to combat climate change.

70% of Nestlé’s footprint comes from agriculture and by implementing regenerative agriculture  the company strives to decrease its footprint to 0%. [SZ2]  [GKv3] Al Dahra is selecting varieties that are more resilient and better adapted to new climate conditions as well as applying precision agriculture methods in their production. Both companies emphasized the importance of close cooperation with farmers, including in their production cycles.

Koen van Ginneken, the Dutch Agriculture Counsellor shared examples of climate change impacts on agricultural production from Hungary, Austria and the Netherlands, underlining that these problems are not country-specific but rather represent a global challenge. Implementing new technologies and innovative solutions should help farmers to adapt to new climate conditions but also the mitigation potential of the agricultural sector through for instance the storage of CO2 in soilshould not be neglected, highlighted the Counsellor.

All debts to farmers to be settled before the end of the year

Mr. Vukasin Bacina, a farmer who led a delegation of agricultural producers at the talks with Minister of Agriculture Jelena Tanaskovic, said that they received a promise that the government would pay all debts by the end of 2022. Mr. Bacina told Beta news agency that the state owed agricultural producers money for premiums for milk for the third quarter, incentives for young cattle for fattening and dairy cows for one year, incentives for mechanization for two years and premiums for this year's sunflower crop.

It was also agreed to determine the number of pigs [GKv4]  [MM5] in Serbia and limit the import of live animals and pork accordingly. Mr. Bacina also said that they had proposed to the Minister to import heifers and distribute them to young farmers. The farmer added that the producers’ request was that incentives for mechanization be [SZ6]  [MM7]  awarded more transparently in the future because they suspect many cases of abuse [GKv8]  [MM9]  [SZ10] . Mr. Bacina said that the delegation negotiated on behalf of farmers from Vojvodina, but that the association would not be registered in order to prevent the “misusage of the association”. [GKv11]  [MM12] In the future, farmers' conversations with the Ministry would, as he said, “take place at the negotiating table, and farmers would not go out into the streets to solve problems in agriculture [SZ13] .”

The value of agricultural production increased but so did consumer prices

The total value of sales and purchases of agricultural, forestry and fishery products in Serbia increased in 2021 compared to 2020 in current prices by 13.7%, while in adjusted prices it decreased by 5.9% according to the latest data from the Statistical Office of Serbia (RZS).

For the first six months of the year, compared to the same period last year, the total value of sales and purchases of agricultural, forestry and fishery products increased by 40.9% in current prices, and by 15.2% in adjusted prices. Prices of goods and services purchased for personal consumption in October 2022 increased by 15% in relation to October 2021, states RZS. Compared to September 2022, consumer prices increased by 1.9% on average and, in relation to December 2021, they went up by 13.5%on average. Observed by main groups according to the destination of consumption in October 2022 in relation to the previous month, the highest increase of prices was noted in the groups restaurants and hotels (4.1%), and in food and non-alcoholic beverages (3.5%).

The prices of raw materials and production costs are the biggest challenge for economy

[SZ14] Business stakeholders in Serbia are expecting an increase in turnover and exports, a stable business climate and employment by the end of the year. But the biggest challenges companies face are the higher costs of purchasing energy and raw materials, as well as the increase in the prices of finished products, according to the latest survey of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS).

With more than 1.800 companies included in it, this PKS survey showed that around 80% of surveyed companies expect to end this year with the same or higher turnover, and 84% of surveyed exporters expect stable export activities, mostly in agriculture, food industry and service activities. This survey shows that 93% of respondents do not plan to reduce the number of workers in the fourth quarter. As the statement reads, what is troubling is the growth of production costs, which increased in the third quarter of this year for 81% of the respondents, while 51% of the surveyed entrepreneurs increased the prices of finished products or services. Respondents pointed out that lower resource prices are a key factor in more efficient operations and capacity utilization. According to PKS, it is encouraging to know that 76% of surveyed companies have enough financial resources for optimal business financing. At the same time, two-thirds declared that they had enough funds for investments in the third quarter of this year.

Level of aflatoxin in milk remains higher than in the EU

The level of aflatoxin in milk on the Serbian market was supposed to be harmonized with the European limit and decreased from 0.25 to a maximum of 0.05 micrograms per liter as of December 1 this year. This was foreseen by the Rulebook on maximum concentrations of certain contaminants in food adopted last year. However, with the just adopted amendments to that rulebook, the harmonization of the limit of this carcinogenic substance to the European maximum level is postponed to December 1, 2023. The level of aflatoxin allowed in milk on the Serbian market remains elevated to 0.25 micrograms per liter, which is five times higher than the European maximum level for this mycotoxin, which Serbia itself applied before the aflatoxin crises in 2013. “The EU standard of 0.05 mg per kg is not global, and it is estimated that two-thirds of the world's population uses the reference limit of 0.50 mg per kg, and the EU itself has different limits when it comes to the level of aflatoxin in fresh milk and cheese types,” the Ministry’s announcement reads. It is said that there is increased control of corn, animal feed and milk, as well as that dairies’ raw materials services started distributing absorbents (zeolite) as a supplement to cows' nutrition, with the aim of lowering the level of aflatoxin. “Over the years, milk producers and processors, phytosanitary and veterinary inspection took measures to reduce the causes of aflatoxin occurrence, first in corn, and then subsequently in animal feed and milk, and the level of this contaminant decreased each year,” the Ministry said.

Serbia has the highest number of beehives per citizen

Due to state support, Serbia has the highest number of beehives per citizen in the world, stated Minister for Agriculture Ms. Jelena Tanaskovic. The Minister added that the number of bee hives is constantly increasing and that an annual honey production in Serbia is over 7 thousand tons. At the 23rd International Conference of Beekeeping Associations the Minister said that beekeeping in Serbia recorded steep increase in production over the last years and that honey became an important export product of Serbia. The Ministry of Agriculture will continue with the support to beekeepers.

Three Serbian startups among the best innovators

The Serbian startups ATAR and Green Hydrogen, as well as the innovator Aleksandra Ivetić, were selected in the selection of TOP 6 best solutions at the regional final of the BASF Innovation HUB  competition intended for innovators and startups that directly or indirectly contribute to the pillars of the Green Agenda - clean energy, sustainable agriculture and smart transport. Serbian innovators presented ideas related to a smart sprayer for detecting and spraying weeds in field crops, a solution for creating, storing and transporting green hydrogen and a solution for efficient pre-treatment for biogas production. [GKv15]  [MM16] The first place and direct placement in the international final went to the Croatian startup Green Energy Pal, a platform aimed to SMEs.