Serbia: Think sustainable, think circular

Updates on the fruit harvest; the role of NL export in the potato market; pesticides banned in line with EU rules; green waste and its role in energy; a window for partial access to the EU market for the West Balkans - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Serbia

Speakers at a panel discussion at a conference organized by National Geographic Serbia. The golden rectangle logo of National Geographic is prominently featured on set.
Beeld: ©Mila Mirkovic

Think sustainable, “circle up” your business

For the second consecutive year, National Geographic Srbija organized a conference to promote sustainable agriculture . This year around the focus was on  circularity in food production, feeding the people whilst regenerating the natural resources.. During a panel debate on the topic  Mr. Aleksandar Bogunovic, representative of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Ivana Mihajlovic from Al Dahra Serbia, Ms. Dragana Besic from Nestlé Serbia and Mr. Koen van Ginneken, Agricultural Counsellor of the Dutch Embassy in Serbia discussed the issue and exchanged best practices from Serbia and the Netherlands. Acknowledging the impact of the agricultural sector on the environment, panelists agreed on the importance of new technologies and application of innovative solutions to preserve resources and transition towards a more sustainable model of production. The Dutch Agricultural Counselor underlined the role of universities in the transition from linear to circular model of production and importance of education, as knowledge is a key element in the transition of global food systems. Panelists furthermore agreed that the  power of consumers cannot be understated, as  our everyday choices determine what the sector will be producing. As such, consumers  can bring about a massive change.

Serbian apples on India’s market

Serbian apple producers can be satisfied with the start of the export season of apples, having delivered  increasing quantities to new markets. In August and September alone, 1.500 tons of apples were exported to India, and the export to the Middle East is seven times higher than the number of apples sold in August and September to the Russian Federation, which has been the largest export market for fruit growers for years, writes daily Dnevnik.

With the opening of Chinese market, Serbian fruit growers should not worry about where they will sell the fruit, the newspaper writes. “In August and September, 1.100 tons of apples were exported to the Russian Federation, and 1.500 tons to India. When we started exporting our apples to India in the 2020-2021 season, we sold only 750 tons. Now in this season, we sold twice as many apples in just two months. Finding new markets turned out to be a good solution to get rid of domestic surpluses because we can no longer sell the quantities on the Russian market that we could in previous years since the Russians have their own plantations,” President of the association Serbia Does Apples Gojko Zagorac stated for daily Dnevnik. He reiterated that Serbia annually has, with small deviations, about 500.000 tons of apples and that 180.000 to 200.000 tons of that amount are sold abroad.

This season, Zagorac said, the price of apples on the foreign market is better than it was in the past two years. The export of apples to China, with which Serbia recently signed a free trade agreement, could begin middle of next year, Zagorac says. He adds that China is the largest producer of apples in the world, where about 45 mn tons are harvested annually and the same amount is consumed. “China imported a total of 100.000 tons of apples in 2022, which is 27.000 tons more than the year before,” said Zagorac and added that only seven countries exported apples to China, and only five sold them in large quantities.

The biggest exporters of apples to China are New Zealand and South Africa. In addition to these two countries, the USA, France, Australia and Poland also sell apples to China, Zagorac explained.

Potatoes and onions imported from the Netherlands and apples from North Macedonia

About 305.990 tons of fruit were imported into Serbia last year, which is 9.1% less than in 2021, according to data from the Association for Plant Production & Food Industry of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS). A total of 169.752 tons of vegetables were delivered from foreign markets, which is 10.3% more than in 2021. The value of imported fruits & vegetables was €295.7 million, which is 3.2% more than in 2021, writes the Agronews portal.

€140.6 million was paid for the import of fruit, mostly bananas - €61.2 million, followed by lemons and oranges. Bananas are mostly imported to Serbia from Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Colombia, reports the portal. Oranges were mostly purchased in Greece, Turkey, and Spain. Lemons were mostly imported from Turkey, Argentina, Spain, and Greece, and grapefruit from Turkey.

Last year, Serbia also imported 26.126 tons of apples, worth about €3.7 million, mostly from North Macedonia (EUR 3.1 mn). Strawberries were imported from Greece, Albania, and Turkey, pears from Italy and Poland, and nectarines and peaches from Greece, Italy, and Spain. Up to 169.752 tons of vegetables were imported from foreign markets, which is 10.3% more than in 2021, but the value of these vegetables (€155.1 million) was almost a third higher than a year earlier, according to the data presented by Chamber of Commerce of Serbia. Tomatoes had the highest value of imports in 2022 – €21 million or 14% of the total value of imports. The total import of beans was worth €20.6 million or 13.3% of the total value.

In 2022, potatoes were mostly imported from the Netherlands and France, beans from Kyrgyzstan, tomatoes from Albania and North Macedonia, onions from the Netherlands and North Macedonia, and garlic from China. Cabbage was imported from North Macedonia, fresh peppers from North Macedonia and Albania, and cucumbers from Albania. Watermelons were mostly imported from Greece.

A total of 113 pesticides banned in Serbia starting mid-November           

The irregular use of plant protection products in Serbia is increasingly the reason for returned shipments of fruit and vegetables from the EU borders. The “rapid alert system” is the system for prevention or restriction of selling dangerous products on the common market and control of food safety in the EU. Serbia is a part of this system as well. As from November 9, the use of 113 plant protection products is banned in Serbia. Since Serbian regulations are nearly fully harmonized with the European ones, plant protection products have been withdrawn from the market because they contain 17 active substances which were recently banned in the European Union. The list of the banned products can be seen on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture under the Directorate for Plant Protection.

The Director of the Plant Protection Directorate, Mr. Nebojsa Milosavljevic, said for the national broadcaster mentioned pesticides had been banned 18 months ago and that the deadline by which they could be used, that is, by which the supplies could be spent, had now expired. He points out that the remaining supplies should be disposed of in line with the law, that is, to be handed over to those in charge of waste collection, which is then sent for safe destruction.

Green waste in service of Serbia’s energy security        

The director of Wabio Invesment Holding  in Serbia, Mr. Dusko Boskovic, proposes utilizing the country's crop residues to produce biogas, which could meet Serbia's current gas imports, reports the Energija Balkana news portal. Boskovic highlights for the portal that around 10 million tons of crop residues from 2.5 million hectares of arable land could generate approximately three billion cubic meters of biogas using Wabio technology. He emphasizes the economic benefits, suggesting potential earnings of €500 million for Serbian agriculture. Boskovic claims that Serbia could achieve energy self-sufficiency in the gas sector, promoting the country's energy independence, writes the portal.

Western Balkans countries to partially enter common EU market before full membership

Last week the president of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen, stated in Brussels that the EU institution had adopted a Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, worth €6 billion, which could double the region’s economy in the next ten years. “With its combination of reforms and investments, it will allow the Western Balkans to benefit soon from key areas of our single market, including free movement of goods, services and workers, the single euro payments area, transport, energy and the digital single market,” Von der Leyen stated.

At the same occasion, the European Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said that the plan would bring the citizens of the WB region certain advantages of membership already at the accession stage to the EU. Mr. Várhelyi said that the Growth Plan stipulates the gradual inclusion of the Western Balkans in parts of the common European market and should contribute to reducing the economic-social gap between the EU and the region. “We are giving Western Balkans the opportunity of earlier integration into the EU before it formally joins the Union,” Mr. Várhelyi said. The plan envisages the increasing of financial assistance to support the reforms for the period 2024-2027, consisting of two billion euros in grants and four billion in concessional loans, with payment depending on the partners’ fulfilling of specific reforms. The Growth Plan is part of the 2023 Enlargement Package.