Serbia: First results of agriculture census show major shifts

ASF devastates pig farms; horticulturalists on the search for funding; changes in Serbia's export relations; EU funds for green transition; grants make rural living desirable; new alliance for regenerative farming established - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Serbia

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First results of agriculture census announced

The statistical Office of Serbia held a press conference to present the first results of the agricultural census conducted in the country last year. The Director of the Statistical Office, Miladin Kovacevic, together with Martin Klaucke, Head of Operations Section II, EUD (which financed the project) and representatives of Ministry of Agriculture Dragana Markovic, Head of Statistics and Petar Korovic, Assistant Director, presented the first results of Census.   

On average, agricultural households in Serbia cultivated 6.4 hectares of land last year, raising one cattle, five pigs, three sheep, 43 poultry, and maintaining three beehives. These figures stem from last year's agriculture census, which shows that 508,365 agricultural households were registered in Serbia, a decrease of 10% compared to the 2018 survey.

Last year, 313,495 households were engaged in animal husbandry, indicating that six out of every ten households were involved in livestock farming, compared to eight households in 2018. The census disclosed a decline in livestock numbers compared to 2018, with 725,408 cattle, a 17.7% decrease, 2,263,705 pigs, a 30.7% decrease, 1,702,682 sheep, a 5.4% decrease, and 149,558 goats, a 31.5% decrease. Poultry numbers also decreased by 5%, totaling 22,022,439.

The total available land area is 4,073,703 hectares, a 21.3% decrease from 2018, and utilized agricultural land is 3,257,100 hectares, a 6.3% decrease from the previous survey. Forested land covered 504,104 hectares, a 48.2% decrease from 2018.

The agricultural workforce comprised 1,150,653 individuals, a 14% decrease from 2018, with 77.2% men and 22.8% women household heads. The average age of the head of a family of an agricultural household is 60 years, and every 11th household head is younger than 40 years. Commenting on the results of last year's census, agro economist Milan Prostran stated for Beta news agency that Census revealed that cattle breeding and land farming have been devastated in Serbia. "The results of the census of agriculture from last year paint a picture of the devastation of cattle breeding, as a pillar of agriculture sector, as well as the ruination of the people involved in this business,” stated Prostran for Beta news agency.

African swine fever devastated pig farms in Serbia

The African swine fever has decimated the pig population in Serbia, leading to prices of pork of €4.3 to the “astronomical” €6.4 per kilogram of live weight, and even more, because the buyers pay what the seller asks for, point out Serbian pig farmers.

Bora Suljmanac, the owner of a pig farm from Lacarak near Sremska Mitrovica, said for the Beta news agency that pig owners could set any price they wanted, because there were not enough pigs in the market due to the African swine fever, because many sows had to be killed. He added that pig farming had been devastated by the low prices in the previous few years, further worsened by the swine fever, so it is no wonder that the price of pork had “exploded”.

“The real price of pork could be €4.7 per kilogram of live animal, which is how much it costs on the farms, but the owners of smaller farms are making use of the opportunity and are raising the price because there are no pigs,” Suljmanac explained. He added that the price of fatlings could be expected to jump as well two to three months later, because of the difficulties with the renewal of the production due to the African swine fever. Local fatlings, as he said, if they can be found cost €4.7 per kilogram, and are more expensive than the imported ones, but import permits are still not issued due to African swine fever, so he himself is still waiting for this contagious swine disease to “check out”, so that he could import pigs from Denmark.

“We are now covering the losses in production from the past years, when a kilogram of live weight for a fatling costed €1 – 1.1. Due to such a low price, of the five fatling farmers, only one survived, so it’s no wonder that there are no pigs,” Suljmanac stated. He pointed out that serious problems could be expected in pig farming and that the state should stimulate young farmers to be active in that branch of livestock farming through subsidies.

Dragan Naumovic, a pig farmer from the village of Lucica near Pozarevac, said that the African swine fever had destroyed 80% of the pig population in the Branicevo District and that the price of pigs had jumped to around €5.2 per kilogram of live weight. A big problem, he said, is the ban on the renewal of farms due to the African swine fever. A month ago, the ban was lifted in that area, but was reinstated.

Naumovic reminded that in order to renew the production, 60 days needed to pass from the last case of infection with African swine fever in a certain area. Until September 7 last year, due to the African swine fever, around 3.900 pigs died in Serbia. Additionally farmers were forced to kill more than 42,000, among which were several thousand sows, Beta reports.

Fruit and vegetable growers seek additional funding for seasonal interventions

Representatives of associations of fruit and vegetable growers met with Marjan Risticevic, the President of the Committee for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management in the Serbian Parliament, and requested to allocate a portion of funds for incentives in the agriculture budget for seasonal interventions when the prices of agro products fall.

In a press release issued after the meeting, attended by representatives of the Associations of Serbian Raspberry Producers and association “Vilamet” from Arilje, “Ekovoce” from Kraljevo, and “Zlatni Breg” from Nova Varosi, it was stated that fruit and vegetable growers believe that subsidies would preserve the stability and continuity of production. "Fruit and vegetable growers are dissatisfied with the announcement that will not be included in the increase of incentives per hectare of €145, they said. It was added that, during the registration of parcels in the e-agrar system, agricultural advisory services did not alert them to exclude uncultivated and occupied areas from cultivated parcels, leading to some registered agricultural households being penalized and placed in passive status, making them ineligible for per-hectare subsidies.

The associations proposed that, instead of passive status, farms should be allowed to correct provided data.

The majority of Serbian apples were exported to the Middle East

“Since the beginning of the season, from August 2023 until the end of December, for the first time ever, the highest concentration of Serbian apples, both in quantities and in value, have been exported to the Middle East, where 22,500 tons of apples were sold for 22 million euros” explained Mr. Gojko Zagorac, President of the Association "Serbia does apples". The leading export market was Saudi Arabia, where Serbia exported apples amounting €11.3 million, as well as the United Arab Emirates, where the export value was €7 million, stated Zagorac for a daily “Dnevnik”. The second export market for Serbian apples was Europe, where 30.000 metric tons of apples were sold for €15 million by the end of December last year. The Russian market, once the most important export market for Serbian apples, dropped to third position with export of 10,500 tons for €8 million, explained Zagorac.

EU funds for Serbia's green transition

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has selected 23 innovations for the green transition of the Serbian economy and society. These innovations will be implemented with financial support from the EU and Switzerland, totaling €1.6 million under the EU Green Agenda project in Serbia. The regional landfill in Subotica, in collaboration with the Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops, Novi Sad , will conduct research on composting using waste sludge to utilize large quantities of this material generated from wastewater.

The company Greendecor, in partnership with the Institute for Biological Research Sinisa Stankovic is developing innovative green cassette roofs with plants resistant to climate change and suitable for easy maintenance. These roofs can significantly improve the energy efficiency of buildings and reduce air pollution in cities. ArTech Engineering will create new construction materials from textile waste, suitable for use in road construction, building construction, and interior design. Among the selected projects is the solution from the Public Utility Company Kruševac, which will establish a green area in the industrial zone of Kruševac, near the Morava Corridor, to enhance air quality in the region.

All 23 chosen innovations will be implemented in 2024. As part of the EU Green Agenda projects in Serbia, 29 innovative green solutions have already received support from the EU and Switzerland, totaling €1.3 million.

Purchase of 3,000 rural houses expected this year

The Ministry for Rural Welfare has announced three public calls to purchase rural houses with yards, procure minibuses, and organize the event “Miholjski susreti”. As announced by the Ministry, the Serbian budget allocates €5.7 million for these projects. For rural houses purchase €4.27 million has been earmarked, for minibuses €1 million and half a million for the event organization.

Adult citizens of Serbia, individuals, single parents, and couples under the age of 45 have the right to participate in the public competition for rural houses with yards. This program gained huge attention, with approximately 15 applications received daily, and this year, around 3,000 requests are expected, the Ministry stated.

Minister for Rural Welfare, Milan Krkobabic noted that this year a record for the number of houses occupied would be set with nearly 15,000 people living in them. In the previous three years, 2,650 houses were settled in villages across Serbia, providing shelter for 10,000 people. "Through a budget rebalance, significantly larger funds will be allocated. Soon, a program for rural residents who decide to start or expand their own businesses of any kind will begin. They can count on assistance of up to 10,000 euros. For border areas of Serbia, these funds will be even larger," said the minister.

mAddressing the mobility issues of rural populations, specifically the procurement of minivans, 61 local self-governments have received funding so far, with 35 in the most underdeveloped areas in the country. The approved amount per minibus is almost €60 thousand. As for events, the maximum amount provided per application is €4.3 thousand, for financing “Miholjski susreti” which will take place from June 1 to November 1, 2024. In the past three years, 250 events were held, and last year's gathering brought together 1,500 villages in 95 municipalities and 200,000 participants.

Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture of Serbia established

The Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture of Serbia was founded in Novi Sad, as a step towards creating more sustainable, resilient and profitable agriculture in Serbia. The founders of the Alliance are Balkan Eco Innovations, Agriculture Faculty Novi Sad, Institute for Development and Innovation and company from Belgrade. The Alliance is strongly supported by farmers who already apply regenerative agricultural practices in their production.

The main objective of the Alliance is to jointly solve overall challenges that require cooperation between the private sector, science, state institutions, farmers' associations, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders. The Alliance will seek to shape and advance this goal in order to encourage the application of regenerative practices in agriculture. The work of the Alliance will be implemented through joint work and efforts of all participants who are directly engaged in regenerative agriculture to some extent, as well as those who indirectly, through their actions, can contribute to it being more widespread in the country. On March 12, 2024, in the premises of the Faculty of Agriculture in Novi Sad, the Alliance will present its vision, goals and activities to all parties interested.