Serbia: Biogas mission successful

Biogas mission organized by NL embassies in Serbia and Hungray successful; new European beekeepeing alliance to be formed in Belgrade; the story of phantom cows; protests over the commodity exchange; issues consumer deception; and the best wines in 2023 - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Serbia

People standing around.
Beeld: ©Mila Mirkovic
Participants of the biogas mission in Belgrade on February 6, 2024

Biogas trade mission to Serbia and Hungary

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. In order to explore the potential of renewable sources of energy from agriculture, forest based and other waste , the Dutch Embassies in Serbia and Hungary organized a joint trade mission for Dutch companies to the region. Participating in the mission were representatives of the New Energy Coalition, Perpetual Next, Regazz, Torrgas, VARO, the Waste Transformers and Mavitec Green Energy and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

The event paired major local stakeholders with the Dutch counterparts. The Serbian Biogas Association, the Ministry of Energy and the Serbian Energy Utility Company presented the market potential in producing biogas and biofuels  as well as areas for potential cooperation, whilst Mr Kees Kwant from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and Mr Ruud Paap from the New Energy Coalition shared the Dutch perspective and experience in the field of biogas to the Serbian biogas business community. The delegation furthermore met with a representation from the  UNDP, where representatives of municipalities of Kikinda, Subotica and Sremska Mitrovica, which are supported by UNDP, presented their ideas to  use organic waste for biogas production.  Besides UNDP’s support to the municipalities, it will commission a study providing further insights into the potential and bottlenecks in the further development of biogas and biomethane in Serbia.

The mission underlined the potential in the region and pave the way for increased cooperation on the topic with Dutch public and private partners.

European beekeeping federation to be formed in Belgrade

The founding assembly of the European Beekeeping Federation (EBA) will take place in Belgrade on February 11th, announced the Beekeeping Association of Serbia  (SPOS).

Representatives from associations and organizations that have joined the EBA from Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Ukraine, Lithuania, Malta, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and the Republika Srpska have confirmed their presence at the founding assembly. It is expected that the headquarters of the EBA will be established within  EU territory, where the most significant battle for beekeepers' and consumers' rights will take place, stated the Association.

The assembly will be held in the Administrative Building of the Belgrade Fair, where the National Beekeeping Fair begins on the same day. SPOS emphasized that European beekeepers have decided to form the federation due to numerous problems in the sector, primarily because of the high percentage of honey counterfeiting in the market. They highlighted that besides beekeepers, honey consumers are also at risk, as well as European agriculture, which faces the mass abandonment of beekeeping by disillusioned beekeepers, leading to a drastic reduction in the number of bees and agricultural yields due to reduced pollination by bees. Uncontrolled poisoning of bees by pesticides also significantly contributes to the decrease in bee numbers, so it is essential to introduce additional forms of support for beekeeping, according to the statement.

Commodity exchange, still a long way away

Last fall, Serbian farmers blocked roads demanding organization of the commodity exchange and the introduction of commodity warrants and futures contracts. The working group on the Market Regulation and Commodity Exchange consisting of experts, Ministry officials and representatives of farmers association was formed to work on the concept of commodity exchange. Last week the Ministries of Agriculture and Trade adopted regulations prescribing minimum technical conditions for warehouses.

The third meeting of the Working Group for the Market Regulation and Commodity Exchange also took place last week and the main topic was the new Warehouse Regulation.According to the Ministry of Agriculture the regulation stipulates that if a farmer is dissatisfied with how the warehouse has determined the quantity, quality or class of the delivered agricultural products, they can complain to the inspection service of the Ministry of Agriculture. How to increase the number of public warehouses was discussed at the meeting, said Daniel Kovacic from the farmer’s association “Initiative for the Survival of Farmers”. "We proposed that those who are not part of the public warehouse system or do not meet the requirements to enter into such a partnership with the state, should be given a three-year period to comply with the required conditions. This is important since it would make it easier for farmers to obtain storage facilities and certification of delivered goods, which then can be used for further trading, contracting and obtaining loans," explained Kovacic. The results of the warehouse census in the country were also presented at the meeting of the Working group. A total of 786 warehouses have been inventorised, with their total capacities estimated at seven million tons.

"For the current warehouses to enter the public warehouse system, it is necessary to enact a law on public warehouses and to form a compensation fund, which would compensate the owner for damage in case of loss of goods. Only then can warehouses obtain certification and enter the public warehouse system," said agricultural economist Žarko Galetin to Beta. As he noted, these warehouses would issue commodity warrants for trading or as collateral for obtaining loans. Galetin added that the path to trading futures contracts is much longer because many more conditions, such as a developed securities market, need to be met

Dusan Tornjanski, explained that it would take two to three years to organize the commodity exchange in Serbia and introduce commodity warrants for trading. “We are satisfied with the work done so far by this Working Group. Public warehouses have been inventoried, and regulations have been adopted prescribing minimum technical conditions for trading with goods stored in warehouses. We are requesting that, based on the delivered goods to public warehouses, we receive commodity warrants for trading," said Tornjanski, a member of the Farmers' Association of Banat, to Beta news agency.

State subsidies for phantom cows

Associations of milk producers from Sumadija and Macva announced that Serbia has around 78,000 “phantom” cows and demanded that the state prevent further misuse of money from state agriculture funds. The president of the Association of Milk Producers of central Serbia, Milija Palamarevic, explained for FoNet news agency that request had been put forward to the Government and the Agrarian Paying Agency "to clean up the register of “phantom” cows, which exist only on paper, but not in pastures and barns."

According to official data, Serbia has about 150,000 dairy cows, but in 2023, subsidies were paid for 228,000 dairy cows. This means that state subsidies were provided for more than 78,000 cows that do not exist, totaling €27.3 million, said Palamarevic. He stated that dairy farmers' associations from Sumadija and Macva proposed that all livestock should be chipped, thereby preventing such manipulations.

Palamarevic reminded that, according to official data, Serbia paid out €6.87 million last year for milk premiums and added that this data, combined with the number of cows, fits their estimate of the number of phantom cows. "The average milk yield per cow in Serbia is 5,000 liters per year, so even based on these data, it adds up to about 150,000 dairy cows in Serbia," explained Palamarevic. He emphasized that out of the €27,3 million paid last year for "phantom" cows, €19 million should be redirected to increase subsidies from €341 to €470 for existing livestock, while the remainder should be used to cover the costs of chipping, reports portal Direktno

Consumer deception most common in chocolate, juices, coffee, brandy

Frauds related to food in Serbia are not fully regulated and sanctioned by law, with the most significant consumer deception found in products such as chocolates, juices, coffee, honey, cheese, black bread, and brandy, according to the report "Food Safety in Serbia" by the State Audit Institution (DRI).

The audit revealed no obligation to inform the public about established food-related frauds. The DRI recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture to introduce the term "food-related fraud" into the law, as stated during the presentation of the report of DRI. "Deceptions are most common in chocolate, which is presented as chocolate but is often a sugar bar. Juices that do not contain the specified level of fruit, as indicated on the product label, coffee containing substitutes, and honey to which glucose-fructose syrup is added," said Senior Advisor in the DRI, Aleksandar Gligorijevic.

Other products where decisions are common are cheese, black bread, and brandy. Gligorijevic emphasized that the law regulates that the National Reference Laboratory is the central institution in food safety, which should conduct most tests.

However, despite significant investments in its resources, this has not happened. "For testing in other laboratories from 2019 to 2022, €15.4 million were allocated," said Gligorijevic, adding that these laboratories were engaged based on tenders. The report points out that the Law on Safety envisages an Expert Council, established in 2017, which has only met four times, and the body has never adopted its working agenda. One of the issues pointed out by DRI is the lack of continuity in food monitoring. It is noted that the Institute of Public Health "Dr Milan Jovanović Batut" reported annually on the health safety of food and bottled waters. The DRI recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture develop a crisis management plan for food safety and ensure transparent information to the public about health risks caused by food.

Best wines in Serbia in 2023

In the annual selection of the wine magazine Vino, awards in 23 categories were given to the best wines and wineries in Serbia.

The title of the best red wine in 2023 was awarded to Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserva from the 2017 vintage, produced by Radovanovic winery in Krnjevo. The best white wine was Sauvignon  Blanc Ex Cathedra 2021 from Erdevik winery, which also earned the title of the best winery.

The title of the best rosé wine went to Vertiz Winery under the label Eau de Rosé 2022. In the category of the best sparkling wine, Zvonko Bogdan winery was awarded for Eclater 2018. The winners of the local indigenous varieties are Bukovski Cuvee 2019 from Matalj winery in Negotin and Grašac 2020 from Vincic winary.

The best organic wines are Dionizije 2019 from Jović and Furmint Kew 2019 from Sagmeister, while in the orange wine category, Morange 2018 by Milijan Jelić emerged as the best. The best dessert wines and those with the best value for money were selected, which is particularly interesting for buyers. Wine Vision Open Balkan is the best event and the best wine brand in Serbia for the second year in a row. Jovic winery near Knjaževac was named the best small winery, and the title of the best young winery went to Lakicevic winary, Kosovo.

The recognition for the most significant contribution to wine tourism went to the opulent Wine Atelier Sapat in Slankamen, and the best design for wine labels was awarded to the organic Imperator winery from Fruška Gora. The winning wines will be presented at special tastings in Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Sarajevo, as announced by the Vino magazine.