Biogas in Serbia: More sustainable, less import-dependent energy

The opportunities biogas creates for Serbia, unhappy farmers direct anger at government, new agriculture research facility to be opened soon, and new competition announced for West Balkan companies - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news from Serbia.

A field is shown from above. Half of the field is entirely harvested, with brown stubs sticking out of the ground in rows. The other half is verdant green, covered in vegetation.
Beeld: ©Mauro Tandoi
Agricultural residues and other side and waste streams provide excellent opportunities for biogas production in Serbia.

Biogas: from waste to gas independence

Biogas, an energy source that can be obtained from organic residues, i.e. various types of waste, could be a significant support for Serbia in building a stable, sustainable and less import-dependent energy system in times of crisis.

Biomass accounts for 61% of the renewable energy potential in Serbia but only 2% is actually utilized. At the same time, the generation of biogas can provide farmers with an alternative source of income.

Biogas is a type of gaseous biofuel obtained from the decomposition or fermentation of organic matter, including agricultural residues, manure, sewage sludge, municipal waste or any other biodegradable waste. It consists mainly of methane and carbon dioxide. Besides the obvious benefit of producing renewable energy in the form of electricity and heat, the process ensures  almost maximum utilization of nutrients from organic matter and the production of  fertilizer without the risk of spreading plant and animal diseases, with reduced odors when used in the fields compared to conventional fertilizers. In addition, biogas production  reduces the amount of organic waste, whether it is from agricultural, food or other industries.

The UNDP office in Serbia together with Ministry of Mining and Energy and Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental protection have implemented a five year project whose main goal was to increase the share of energy from renewable sources in energy mix of Serbia. The key challenges spotted by the project team were fragmented agriculture land, stability of production, logistics, legal issues and finances. More at UNDP biomass.

Nebojsa Vraneš from the Center for Circular Economy of Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS) points out that Serbia has a high potential for the use of renewable energy, especially biomass. Mr. Vraneš states that, although the potential is huge, it is necessary to review the existing regulation, according to which inputs for the production of biogas are treated in line with the  Law on Waste Management, whereas it should be dealt with  as a resource.

"Currently, each individual has to prepare studies, obtain permits, which practically makes it impossible for agricultural holdings, farms and small or medium-sized enterprises to use this resource. We need a transitional solution. It is necessary to pass a by-law that would properly define the side product. "The current regulation is vague," states Mr. Vraneš for TV N1. He also underlines other problems that should be solved such as the separation of waste at landfills, separation of biowaste at the point of generation and the need to develop the market for liquid fertilizer. As he states, these practices have not yet taken root.

The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands finds this topic important in the time of country’s green transition and the global energy crisis. At the beginning of April, the Embassy together with the EBRD, will organize a conference focusing on exploring potential of renewable sources from agriculture and forest based waste in Serbia.

Milk producers furious with government’s attitude

About a thousand milk producers from western Serbia blocked the Ibar highway in the town of Mrcajevci, between Cacak and Kraljevo, as a sign of protest against the reduction in the purchase price of milk and the import of large quantities from the EU.

As a sign of protest, they spilled milk on the road and demanded that the government take urgent measures to save domestic milk producers. They request immediate milk import ban. In addition, they want milk premiums for the first two quarters of 2023 to be returned to €0.13 and they also demand that all outstanding subsidies be paid immediately. Moreover, the farmers requested payment per head to be increased to €340 for this year.

Vojvodina dairy farmers are unsatisfied as well. The President of the Association of Banat’s Milk Producers, Mr. Vukasin Bacina, said that at the planned meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Ms. Jelena Tanaskovic, he would request introduction of milk import quotas and the minimum purchase price of 0.68 EUR per liter. He told Beta news agency that he would ask Minister Tanaskovic to increase the premium for milk from the current €0.08 to €0.17/l.

The list of demands also includes extending the lease agreements of state-owned land for another 10 years. Vukasin Bacina said that dairy processors had reduced the price of milk and that diary Mlekoprodukt, to which he sells the milk, reduced the purchase price of milk from €0.6 to €0.42 in the first half of January. “The main problem is the biggest dairy processor in the country, Imlek, which imports milk from Poland and Hungary and sells it as locally produced. That dairy processor imports large quantities and creates market surplus. This lowers the purchase prices and is devastating for local farmers,” Bacina said. He added that the government banned the export of domestic milk, but allowed Imlek to import. The President of Association of Banat’s Milk Producers stated that local dairy farmers were selling their product “for next to nothing”, adding that fodder is too expensive due to last year's drought. 

Minister denies debts to farmers

Regarding farmers' claims that not all of them had received state aid, the Minister of Agriculture explained that there were those who applied for subsidies but did not receive the funds because they had not yet received legally binding decisions. This affects about 15% of the farmers. Additional funds worth €128 have been promised for the farmers in question, with the statement that they will be paid out in February.

“There was a lot of manipulation in the previous days saying I promised subsidies would be paid to everyone. I said that all funds from the 2022 budget would be spent before the end of the year and 99.84% of subsidies have been paid out,” Minister Tanaskovic commented. The minister further added that by the end of January, the subsidy to sunflower producers would be paid in full.

On February 6, premiums for milk for the fourth quarter will be paid, followed by the disbursement of the aforementioned €128 million, the Minister added. She said that in the first 10 days, about 22 thousand farmers got their ID numbers, which is the first step in e-Agrar. “The idea is that all agricultural producers transparently know what they have applied for (subsidies in the current year) and that they will receive those funds in the same year,” Minister Tanaskovic commented. She pointed out that farmers currently provide 89 different types of data on various requests and that such practice would be overcome with e-Agrar.

The new building of the Biosense Institute to be officially opened coming

Ms. Jelena Begovic, the Minister of Science, Technological Development and Innovation of Serbia, visited the construction site of the new building of Biosense Institute in Novi Sad. The construction is in its final stages, and its completion is expected next month. The institution will move in into the new research and development facility the spring. Construction of the Center for Information Technologies of Biosystems started two years ago. According to Minister Begovic, the idea is to attract not only new companies, but also Serbian scientists from abroad who will contribute to the boosting of research in the country. The Biosense Institute’s main activities are focused on the development of precision tools for digitalization of agriculture, reports Tanjug news agency.

Chamber Investment Forum opens competition for best West Balkan companies

The Western Balkans 6 Chamber Investment Forum (WB6 CIF) invited companies to participate in the Open Regional Competition for the best companies in the West Balkans. The competition is open until February 15 and the prizes will be awarded in Skopje on March 29.

It was announced by the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS) that awards will be given in six categories: Leading Investor, Best Exporter, Champion of Environmental Protection, Digital Champion, Successful Supplier in the Regional Chain, and Most Innovative Company.

WB6 CIF, a joint regional chamber of commerce that gathers and represents the interests of more than 350 thousand companies from the Western Balkans, announced a competition with the support of the European Commission, on the occasion of the five-year anniversary of the establishment of the Common Regional Market, the announcement states. The companies that will be awarded within the first regional competition will have the opportunity to additionally promote their goods, services and business, as well as to participate in projects & training courses organized by WB6 CIF, the announcement reads.