Heavy rains and flood hit Serbian agriculture

Substantial environmental damages in horticulture; legal reform increases number of legal seasonal workers; regional project on urban greening launched; greenhouse production increases profits; World Bank support in green transition - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Serbia

Heavy rain with droplets splashing on a wooden beam.
Beeld: ©Liv Bruce

Heavy rainfall damaged the soil and  fruit crops

Due to overflowing rivers and streams, a state of emergency was declared in 56 cities and municipalities in Serbia. While authorities are dealing with the damages, further flooding is expected with continued heavy rainfall in the coming period, stated the representative of the Department for Emergency Situations of the Ministry of Interior, Milos Milenkovic. State emergency units were mostly deployed in Western and Central Serbia, in the municipalities of Novi Pazar, Aleksinac and Kosjeric.

Heavy and long-lasting rains will negatively impact the fruit yields in Serbia, the fruit expert Professor Zoran Keserovic said. He added that he does not remember it rained so much for the last several decades. "Two months ago, the condition of the fruit was good and good yields were forecasted. But frequent rains will reduce the yield by about five percent, and in the best case scenario, the crop will be at the level of last year", said Keserovic. The quality of strawberries is at a low level, “monili” disease has attacked sour cherry orchards. In the orchards with modern growing technology sweet cherries are in good conditions. Apricots were damaged by snow in the orchards on higher altitude but record high yields are expected in the lowlands, reports Beta news agency.

Bad weather destroys 15% of raspberry harvest in Serbia         

The president of the Association of Raspberry Producers in Serbia, Dobrivoje Radovic, said that the bad weather and the hail in the preceding few days had destroyed around 15% of the raspberry yield. He also said for the Beta news agency that the rain and the hail had affected parts of Uzice, Cacak, Ivanjica, Pozega and Kosjeric and that the damage was 100%. "The raspberry yield is lower by around 35% at the moment, because the vegetation is late as well, so young sprouts have not developed, which has reduced the yield by around 20%. It is uncertain whether the rest of the yield will be preserved until the harvest, because the bad weather is frequent," said Radovic.

Increased number of seasonal workers in agriculture performing jobs legally

More and more seasonal workers in agriculture are performing their jobs legally thanks to the opportunities offered by the Law on Simplified Work Engagement on Seasonal Jobs, writes the “Agropress” portal. “The agricultural season is well underway, and for workers, who until 2019 in most cases worked illegally, the aforementioned law brought the possibility for seasonal registration, which enables them to exercise their rights to pension and disability & health care, in case of a work-related injury or health issue” Agropress points out.

Employers say that the registration procedure for seasonal workers in agriculture, which is carried out electronically, is simple and fast, which has led to an increase in the number of registered seasonal workers. Since the introduction of the electronic system and the beginning of the application of the law in January 2019, the number of legally engaged seasonal workers has increased by more than 20 times, according to GIZ, which supported the implementation of this reform. The Tax Administration emphasizes that the government, employers, as well as the workers themselves, benefit from registering seasonal workers in agriculture. “The lowest monthly contribution base in 2023 is €0.3 while the daily basis for taxation is €9.98. The daily tax amount per employee is €3, and the daily contribution amount for pension & disability insurance is €2.4 EUR. The total liability per worker, per day of engagement, is €3.6” Agropress states. The law allows foreign citizens to register as seasonal workers since this type of work does not require the obtaining of a work permit prescribed by the Law on the Employment of Foreign Citizens.

Urban agriculture for sustainable future

The implementation of the project dedicated to urban agriculture "Urban Farming Education for Sustainable Future" financed by the EU within Erasmus plus program has recently begun.

The project is implemented in four countries of the region - Croatia, Serbia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria. The partner organizations with an active role in the project are Forum for Strategic research and documentation from Skopje as the lead organization; Eco Association from Zadar, Croatia; Association for politicians from Sofia, Bulgaria; and the National Association for the Development of Organic Production – “Serbia Organica” from Serbia.

The project is expected to end in 2024. Last month the representatives of the partner organizations met in North Macedonia. During their stay in Skopje, they got acquainted with an urban garden, Bostanie Community Garden, which is run by the organization The Green Ark, and was created through the project Development of the First Urban Garden in Skopje, financed by the City of Skopje.

Ivana Simic from Serbia Organica said that the concept of urban agriculture is not unknown in the region, but it is due to global challenges such as increased urbanization, need for environmental protection, fluctuations in food supply chains that urban agriculture is gaining in importance. “Urban agriculture provides a new approach in dealing with social and environmental challenges in alternative andnew ways. Small, green plots for cultivation of agricultural crops in large cities contribute to mitigation of bad economic and nutritional crisis effects ", says Mrs Simic.

Urban residents have multiple benefits from their work in gardens tucked in-between neighborhoods at the outskirts of cities. Urban gardens provide a new role for city folks. From the passive role of a consumers/buyers only – they are becoming active micro- farmers. Produced fruits, vegetables, herbs etc are used for their own consumption. Also, with this type of engagement, citizens are ensuring added economic value for their own household budgets by selling the eventual excess product to local customers. Additionally, soil cultivation has positive affect on environmental protection. The project envisages expansion of knowledge and skill improvement of adults in cities of the four South Eastern European countries. People are encouraged to become interested in environmental protection and sustainable development.

Production in greenhouses increases profit for farmers

Annually, Serbia produces around 245,000 tons of vegetables in greenhouses, another 400,000 tons in gardens for the own consumption of farmers or for sales in the green markets, and a million tons of vegetables are produced in open fields. This was stated at a professional gathering of vegetable growers on the topic "Modern vegetable production."

Serbia has, on average, about 110,000 hectares under vegetable production, and Serbian farmers grow approximately 41 vegetable species, of which 30 species are economically significant. Professor Zarko Ilin from the Faculty of Agriculture in Novi Sad mentioned that Serbia produces more vegetables than it consumes, which is one million to 1.2 million tons, so a good part ends up in export. However, the professor mentioned that Serbia does not have enough so-called warm-loving vegetable species in the pre-winter and winter period and early spring, namely: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and lettuce, and therefore Serbia imports these vegetables from North Macedonia, Albania, Greece and Turkey. That import, he stated, could be replaced by greater production in greenhouses, especially suitable for farmers who have small holdings or live in urban areas. Vegetable production in covered area in Serbia is taking place on about 2.500 ha only, although this production can be far more profitable for farmers than sowing cereals on dozens of hectares in open fields.

Mr.  Slavko Petelj, a vegetable grower from Kula, who has been producing vegetables in greenhouses for seven years shared his experience at the professional gathering. He explained that the source of income lies in good organization and favorable market conditions, regardless the competition. At the Petelj farm, the greenhouses are right next to the house, and the lettuce and spring onions were ripening in February and were followed by peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. "The whole family is involved in the business, all five members know exactly what their tasks and responsibilities are. With such organization, we do not rely on seasonal workers and we save money" said Mr. Petelj. He noted that he usually sells his entire vegetable production at six markets in the vicinity of the farm: Kula, Vrbas and Srbobran. “These markets are close, we don't need a lot of fuel to get to them. We have our customers, regardless of the fact that there are other vegetable growers in Kula and its surroundings villages who grow the same type of vegetables in greenhouses” stated Mr. Petelj. An dditional advantage of direct sale to the final customers according to Mr Petelj is that he does not need to deal with the “middle-man”.

World Bank supports Serbia’s transition toward greener economy

The First Green Transition Programmatic Development Policy Loan has been approved by the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors, providing €149.9 million in support of Serbia’s boosted efforts to strengthen its public sector institutions on a path to achieving resilient, greener, and more inclusive economic growth that is sustainable across generations, the bank announced in its press release. "The Government of Serbia has taken a major step forward on the journey to making the green transition a reality and this budget support operation is designed to strengthen those efforts," said Nicola Pontara, World Bank Country Manager for Serbia.

Mr. Pontara added that creating and sustaining opportunities, while innovating toward cleaner and more resilient economic growth, might be challenging but also rewarding. The loan, as said, is the first in a programmatic series of two operations. It supports policy and institutional reforms to “better align fiscal management with the green agenda by increasing the transparency of budgetary spending on climate-related activities and on the environment”. It aims to accelerate the clean energy transition through energy market reforms to make the national energy utility, EPS, sustainable and through a faster adoption of renewables while protecting energy-vulnerable consumers. It also helps Serbia to align its domestic legislation with European Union standards on climate and environment action.