Serbia Newsflash Week 22

Devastating hailstorms, agriculture budget, opening borders, EU accession news - The last week in Serbian agriculture

Hail can be seen on the ground
No one in Serbia remembers hailstorms as severe as the one that hit Serbia last weekend. Damages to agriculture are substantial.

Opening of the borders in Balkans  

For the latest information on the conditions to enter certain countries in Balkans please visit the following link: abb article on the opening of the borders in Balkans

Farmers were hoping for the rain but not for the hail

Rain and hailstorms hit some parts of Serbia over the weekend and caused enormous damage to crops, buildings and roads. The storms first reached the western and southern parts of our country, and throughout the weekend it also spread to the rest of Serbia. An unprecedented storm followed by hail hit central Serbia. Crops, orchards and vineyards suffered damage, as well as cars and facades. The damage is almost 100% in most villages.

Even though  anti-hail stations emptied their magazines, hailstorm impacts were not significantly reduced. Anti-hail stations in the territory of central and western Serbia fired all their rockets, yet hail the size of a tennis ball struck. Hail the size of a fist destroyed may crops in south Serbia as well. Locals said that even ninety-year-olds did not remember such a storm. Hail size of a hen’s egg fell for almost forty minutes in western Serbia, destroying all agricultural crops, especially raspberry plantations. The President of the Association of Raspberry and Blackberry Farmers of Serbia, stated that walnut-size hail has nearly destroyed the raspberry farms in western Serbia. There were two waves of the hailstorm over the weekend and the damage is enormous.

The “heart” of the raspberry production, Arilje and surrounding area, has been severely hit by this storm. The anti-hail system needs to be improved and automatized but also farmers need to insure their crops. In the EU approximately 50% of farms are insured and in Serbia not over 12% of producers insure their production.  Only producers that have insurance will be able to get compensation for their damage.

700 million dinars to Serbian farmers from the Ministry for machinery and equipment

The Administration for Agrarian Payments of the Ministry of Agriculture of Serbia has announced a public call for submitting requests for incentives for the purchase of new machines and equipment for the improvement of primary crop production. Incentives of a total of 700 million dinars (approximately €6 million) are for the purchase of new machinery and equipment for primary production of crops in the protected area, for primary production of fruits and grapes, then for the production of vegetables, flowers, aromatic and medicinal plants, as well as for picking fruits, grapes, vegetables, flowers, aromatic and medicinal herbs. These funds can also be used for the purchase of machinery and equipment for primary production of cereals, as well as industrial and fodder plants, for tillage, for protection of plants from diseases, weeds and pests, then for fertilization, and for harvesting and transport of primary agricultural products and irrigation of crops. The upper limit for the financial stimulation is €12.700.

The agriculture budget needs to be increased

The Agriculture Ministry has earmarked €22.3 million to help farmers with the goal of mitigating the consequences of the coronavirus. last Thursday, by amending the Decree on the distribution of incentives to agriculture, the Serbian Government took 1.6 million dinars from farmers. Funds for helping agriculture were small to begin with, they come late for the season and they are not available to everyone.

The money that state has allocated for farmers is not much, but every dinar counts. It will not reach all farms however. There are plenty of unregistered farmers, invisible to the system. They can be the main bearers of the country’s recovery this year, which is why it is important for the budget for this purpose to increase. Agriculture now has only a 5% share in the budget, but it should have at least 10% according to agro analysts.       

Crop planatations are seen from the air in Serbia
Subsidies totalling €6 million have been recently announced - But Serbian agriculture might need more support to get through the crisis.

Serbia's pace of EU accession           

Croatia holds the rotating Presidency of the EU Council until July. Zagreb is trying to schedule an inter-governmental conference by the end of June to open new chapters in Serbia’s pre-accession talks with the European Union. The Croatian Ambassador told Serbia’s Minister for European Integration that the EU enlargement policy for the Western Balkans is a priority. He said that his term as ambassador would “to a great extent be directed at supporting Serbia on its path to the EU” adding that his country would provide help through exchange of experience.

The EU-Western Balkans Zagreb conference confirmed support for the region’s European perspective and the solidarity and unity of the EU and Western Balkans during the coronavirus pandemic. The European Commission was supposed to publish a report on the progress of the candidates for the EU membership in June, but that was postponed for the autumn. Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi suggested that an informal document could be made with all the elements related to the reforms, in order for the EU members to decide on the support for the opening of chapters. Serbia expects the enlargement process to continue at the same speed, and assumes the European Commission and Croatia will find a way to present Serbia’s progress in reforms in order to open more chapters before the end of Croatia’s EU Presidency. Serbia has met benchmarks for the opening of several chapters among witch Chapter 11 – Agriculture and Rural Development.

Many micro and small businesses had to adapt to alternative forms of business

After more than a month since the results of the initial research of the Smart Collective (SC), the consequences of the crisis can be seen more clearly. According to their research many businesses had to turn to alternative forms of business or completely stop their activities. After the Serbian Government presented its aid package, other actors also started developing their strategies to help the economy, especially micro and small companies. One such actor is the European Fund for Southeast Europe (EFSE), whose goal is to encourage economic development and prosperity in this part of Europe. By using the results of the research, the EFSE will try to develop an adequate strategy of support to Serbia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The research is intended to benefit all entrepreneurs, farms, small scale food processors, owners of micro and small companies in Serbia. Its goal is to draw precise image about the current state in entrepreneurial communities in four countries – Bosnia, Serbia, Turkey and Georgia.

FAO regional webinar on the impacts of COVID-19 on agro-food sector

“Lifting lockdowns – what's next for food systems?” - The Budapest-based European and Central Asian Regional Office of the FAO held a high-level online panel discussion on May 28th addressing East Europe’s and Central Asia’s challenges in the agro-food sector amid the pandemic. In his opening words, FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative Vladimir Rakhmanin praised governmental efforts in the East European and Central Asian region in tackling the crisis and raised attention to midterm economic impacts. He also highlighted the international dimensions both of the recently revealed EU ‘Farm to Fork Strategy’ and Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and their contribution potential to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Máximo Torero, chief economist of the FAO underlined that capital-intensive and labor-intensive industries were particularly affected and that IMF projects between 3% and 7% GDP decrease in the region. With the exception of Russia, the major cereal exporters foresee 10% shrinkage in harvests, compared to last year. The representative of the Ukrainian Ministry for Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture expressed his government’s unpleasant surprise by recent EU lobby aspirations to limit agricultural imports from the wheat and corn producing giant.

Photo credit:
Cover: "...la Bastarda che m'ha distrutto l'orto..." by Emmo via Flickr.
Aerial photo: Serbia Vojka from southwest by Bjoertvedt via Wikimedia