Serbia Newsflash Week 31

WB6 Business Council launch, agro policy developments, protests, trade agreement news, COVID-19 damages - The last week in Serbian agriculture

Dear reader,
Due to summer vacations, the Serbia Newsflash will be published less frequently in August.
A bowl of brambles.
Beeld: ©Butter Bred & Stews
This summer in Serbia, fruit prices will be the highest in fifteen years.

Green light for the export of Serbian apple fruit trees onto the EU market

The Serbian technical file submitted to the European Food Safety Authority for evaluation of sufficient scientific guarantees that Serbia has capacity and capability to diminish the risk of certain pests on its territory has been approved by the European Commission. More about this here.

No Orange Pavilion at the International Agriculture Fair in Novi Sad this fall

The International Agriculture Fair in Novi Sad will be organized for the 87th time in a row this fall. The Fair was rescheduled from the traditional third week of May to the third week of September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently it was communicated that the new planned date will be September 12-16. After discussion and the consideration of all important aspects, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Serbia and Montenegro made the decision to withdraw from the exhibition this year. Due to the epidemiological aspects and travel limitations, as well as to difficulties in planning and organizing due to the insecure situation caused by pandemic, the Embassy will not organize the joint presentation of the Dutch companies at the well-known “Orange Pavilion”. The “Dutchies” will be back in May 2021.

WB6 Business Council to be established 

At a video summit organized by the Washington-based Atlantic Council for the Western Balkan 6 (WB6) leaders, Mr Cadez, President of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, announced that the Western Balkans 6 (WB6) Business Council is going to be launched. According to Mr. Cadez, the Council should consist of the 12 largest companies in the Western Balkans, and they will be receiving updates on the development of regional cooperation, achieved results, and improvements in the elimination of barriers. He underscored that 400,000 companies, within the regional business community must cooperate more closely and that it is important to follow developments, organize monthly meetings, and discuss significant matters. He listed transport companies as an example since their operators would measure trucks’ border wait times and follow other parameters available to the business community. Find out more here.

Fruit prices highest in fifteen years

With the exception of cherries, fruit prices in Serbia are the highest this summer in fifteen years. The reason behind the price increase is the damage caused by frost in nearly all European countries, especially Central and Eastern Europe, stated Professor Keserovic from the Faculty of Agriculture in Novi Sad. But poor weather conditions were not the only reason for high fruit prices. The increase in fruit prices was partially also the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused rise in fruit demand and consumption due to the level of vitamins the fruit contains that can be beneficial in the fight against the virus.

According to the professor 85% of apricot orchards suffered from frost in Serbia. Only orchards in hilly areas survived as there was less frost there, so the price of apricot is €1.3 – 1.7/kg. In 2019, apricots were sold for €0.38-0.51/kg, while those of poorer quality used to make brandy were sold below €0.30 /kg. This year, that min price is €0.51/kg. Apples are also expensive as they are exported at €0.73/kg . Strawberry growers earned up to €25,000/hectare this spring. Blueberries are the priciest – in Serbia, they can be bought for €3-4/kg, while their exporting price ranges between €5.5- 6.5/kg. Halved raspberry yields resulted in the increased purchasing price of around €1.78/kg, A year earlier, the price ranged between €1.27-1.44/kg. Despite the higher price this year, producers will not be able to achieve profit as bad weather destroyed some of the raspberry orchards, so the yield is weak and will barely cover production costs. Since the demand for raspberries around the world is huge, Serbian growers expect exporters to pay to them an additional €0.17/kg after the fruit has been sold.

Preparation of the National strategy for irrigation has started

The Serbian Ministry of Agriculture together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched a project “National irrigation strategy and a related five-year action plan”. The project should boost Serbia’s agricultural production by increasing its irrigation capacity and help the country identify and map priority investments for the next ten years. Last week, a working group comprising all relevant stakeholders met for the first time to launch activities, and to oversee the preparation of the irrigation strategy.  Serbia, as a leading agricultural producer and grain exporter in the region has less than 2% of its arable land irrigated, therefore being highly vulnerable to climate change and drought.

Director of the Republic Water Directorate, Mrs. Milic said that “This agreement marks the beginning of drafting Serbia’s irrigation development strategy. In the coming two years Serbia  will identify specific policy and investment options that will increase agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability and climate change resilience via enhanced and newly developed irrigation networks.” Rehabilitating and modernizing Serbia’s irrigation system will strengthen the resilience of the sector while diversifying the agricultural production as irrigation will enable growing higher value crops and increase productivity of the existing ones. EBRD’s Regional Head of Agribusiness, Central and South-Eastern Europe, said that with this project, EBRD wants to ensure and facilitate the participation of all relevant institutions and administrations, as well as the scientific institutes, private sector, farmers and their organizations to address one of Serbian agriculture’s biggest challenges – the strategic and data-based improvement and modernization of its irrigation system. FAO will provide technical assistance to support the design and implementation of the strategy and the action plan by drawing on its global agricultural water management expertise and vast field experience in irrigation investment schemes to, said FAO Senior Economist Hidier.

A person reading news of the coronavirus on a computer screen and a smartphone
Beeld: ©.
The COVID-19 crisis caused unexpected economic shocks that sent ripples around the global economy. Serbian agro sectors were affected in multiple years but food production is still secure.

Online field days

Due to the recently worsened health and epidemiological situation in Serbia field trainings for farmers were rescheduled as “online field days”. Open field days have been traditionally organized by different companies, institutes or agriculture extension services. This year the Donau Soja Regional Center from Novi Sad together with their partners are organizing “on-line soya field days”. Farmers can get recommendations and advises at the following this link. The potato field days of the HZPC rep office in Serbia scheduled for the last week of August have been rescheduled as online presentation as well.

Unforeseeable consequences of the epidemic on agricultural sectors

The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, Branislav Nedimovic, said that the populace should not be afraid of starvation, although the coronavirus epidemic has caused unforeseeable consequences in the entire world economy, and in that sense it will not bypass Serbia and its agriculture. The Minister said that Serbia has no reason to worry, since wheat recorded excellent results. Serbia expects an exceptional year in terms of the most important crops, from corn to sunflower. Quantities will be more than sufficient for domestic consumption as well as for export. People in Serbia will not starve was underlined by the Minister. When it comes to the damage to Serbian agriculture due to the epidemic, Minister stated it is still too early to talk about specific numbers, but that the situation on the ground should be carefully monitored in order to react in a timely manner. "If the circumstances require that, the state will organize new measures to support agriculture. Some measures for the economy have already been announced for the autumn, so farmers will not be left out either," the Minister said.

Tomato growers opened the protest season of farmers

Representatives of the Trade Union of Serbian Farmers and Individual Agricultural Producers staged a protest outside the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Water Management to express their dissatisfaction with the situation in the sector of agriculture, especially regarding tomato production. Tomatoes were thrown against the Ministry building. The protesters demanded a meeting with Minister of Agriculture about the situation of tomato production and cheap imports, mainly from Albania. More protests can be expected if the meeting is not arranged, union representatives stated.

Seasonal workers contribute €3.3 million to the national budget

Over the past year and a half, since the introduction of a law and an application for registering seasonal workers, 37 thousand such workers have been hired officially, and taxes and contributions collected based on that have reached some €3.3 million. Tax revenues alone are worth close to € 900 thousand in dinar counter value. It is estimated that there were 80 thousand seasonal workers in agriculture working completely illegally before the law and the software. It is known that nearly 40 thousand people have been registered this way in slightly over a year and a half. The expert from National Alliance for Local Economic Development pointed out that over 400 employers used the electronic system for the registration of seasonal workers and that is excellent statistics. Two-thirds of them are legal entities and one-third of them are individuals that manage an agricultural holding. In this way, seasonal workers have become part of the legal scene, which means their employers have paid taxes and contributions, which was not the case in previous years.

Russia approves ratification of FTA agreement between EAEU and Serbia

Last weekend, the Russian government announced it had given the green light for the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement signed by Serbia and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). According to a statement published on the Russian government’s official website, they decided to approve the draft federal law and forward it to the State Duma to pass it in line with applicable procedures. Serbian Minister of Agriculture noted that the ratification of the agreement allows Serbian agricultural producers to export many products duty-free to a market with nearly 200 million residents. Serbia signed an agreement on forming a duty-free trade zone with the EAEU in October 2019. With this FTA, the country will be able to export nearly 100% of products duty-free. The agreement will replace the previous bilateral agreements with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan and expand the free trade zone to include Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. The document needs to be ratified by all EAEU member states.

Photo credit:
Cover picture:
“Fruits” by Butter Bread & Stews, via Flickr.