Serbia Newsflash Week 14

The fruits of green transition, irrigation strategy, the dark economic effects of climate change, surging international trade figures and Belgrade's greening - The week in Serbian agriculture

Apple tree and irrigation
Beeld: ©Peggy Choucair
While agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate change, today, less than 2% of Serbia’s arable land is being irrigated

Strategy for the improvement of irrigation system in Serbia

The Ministry of Agriculture of Serbia, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), are working together on a project to prepare a national irrigation strategy and a related five-year action plan. The project will also help the country to identify and map priority investments for the next ten years. A working group comprising all relevant stakeholders was formed and will oversee the preparation of the irrigation strategy. 

The first draft was presented and discussed in the end of January 2021. Agriculture is one of the most important branches of Serbian economy, nevertheless, it is a sector highly vulnerable to climate change and drought with less than 2% of Serbia’s arable land being irrigated. 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.

The Director of the Water Directorate (part of Ministry of Agriculture)  said that in the coming two years the Ministry is going to identify specific policy and investment options that will increase agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability and climate change resilience via enhanced and newly developed irrigation networks. The EBRD and FAO have been working with the Ministry of Agriculture on irrigation issues since 2018 at the request of the Serbian Government. From 2018 to 2019 FAO took part in a joint assessment of priority irrigation investment needs, which helped define the scope of EBRD’s first €15 million loan approved to strengthen the irrigation system. Within mentioned project, the first online workshop “Water management and price of water in Serbia” took place at end of March. Aim was to present water management structures in Serbia and present possible scenarios for optimization and development of the irrigation system, thus showing how to calculate relevant price for water utilization.

Serbian economy loses $6 billion USD due to climate changes

The UNDP Resident Representative in Serbia Mr Pickup stated that the Serbian economy had lost $6 billion since 2000 due to extreme weather conditions. Unless measures and activities aimed at stopping that are introduced, there could be another $6 billion loss by the end of this decade, Pickup pointed out.

At the Dialogue on Serbia’s Adaptation to Climate Changes, held online, she underscored that Serbia was part of a region particularly affected by climate changes since average temperatures in the region were growing faster compared to the global level. “In Belgrade, we have seen that the 13 warmest years have been reported since 2000. That affects people’s lives, puts additional pressure on healthcare systems, and slows down economic growth, especially in agriculture, water management, energy, transport, and infrastructure,” she explained. Serbia has recently adopted the Law on Climate Changes, the first individual legal act tackling this issue. However, according to the UNDP’s reports, the country lacks funding for implementing measures to adapt to climate changes at the state and local levels.

Wheat exports weaker than expected

According to data for 2020 and 2021, Serbian wheat exports are now weaker than maize exports; around 500 thousand tons of wheat will be exported this year instead of the expected 1 million. A standstill occurred in mid-January when the price of wheat went from €0.13/kg to €0.19/kg, so producers reduced the offer, expecting a further increase. That “vacuum” in the wheat trade was exploited by maize exporters. The available barges used in river transport are currently used for maize exports, additionally slowing down wheat exports.

Between July last year and February this year, 430 thousand tons of wheat were exported from Serbia, whereas between October and March, maize exports totaled 1.86 million tons, Director of the Business Association of Milling and Baking Industry Zitounija Association Mr. Sajatovic stated for the Beta news agency. “Since October, after the harvest, maize was a priority in exports. It achieved great results over those five months. If it continues until September, around 3 mn tons should be exported,” Sajatovic explained. He added that maize was sold in foreign markets for €0.12 to €0.19/kg. He also recalled that over 3 million tons of maize had been exported from Serbia last year.

Exports of Serbian agriculture higher by 50% 

Serbian Minister of Agriculture stated that the exports of the Serbian agriculture in the past two years amounts to as much as 50% increase and that last year ended with export revenues of $4.2 billion. He said for the 247 portal that the Serbian agriculture, more than 30 years later, had once again entered the most demanding world markets, among them some high-paying ones, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, but also India and China, and that Vietnam and Indonesia were to open not long after as well.

“The market of the UAE and the countries of the Middle East are the most exclusive platform for Serbian food. Our fruit is already there, such as apples and raspberries, but I expect beef and lamb meat to be just as successful,” Minister underscored. He added that the entire Persian Gulf had a strong interest in Serbian products and that substantial quantities of beef had been sent to Lebanon. Explaining why the Vietnamese market is interesting to Serbia, he said that this country with 80 million residents was interested in buying pork from Serbia. He said that, when it comes to pork, there’s good reason to believe that, in addition to Vietnam, the markets of the EU and China would also open for Serbia.

Nedimovic pointed out that India was interesting as a destination for the export of Serbian fruit and said that nearly 40 shipments had been sent to that country in last six months, with around 800 tons sent in the preceding three months alone.

Beeld: ©Vahid Kanani
Online food delivery is a dynamically growing business in Serbia, generating €10.8 million a month. According to a recent survey, 20% of the users of mobile food delivery apps started ordering online March last year, in the beginning of the pandemic.

Food delivery market worth €10.8 million/month

A panel dedicated to the growth of food delivery apps in Serbia presented that the Serbian mobile food delivery market makes some €10.8 million a month. The figure was calculated by the Public Policy Research Center based on the information that Serbia has around 356,000 mobile food delivery users, ordering food an average 2.7 times a month and spending approximately $11 on average. Presenting other information, gathered through a survey, it was concluded that fast food was ordered the most. That means food that does not take long to prepare, such as pizza, burgers, and pasta. It was added that women ordered food more frequently than men. As for the impact of the pandemic on this market, it was significant as 20% of the respondents said they had started using mobile apps for food delivery for the first time in March and April 2020 (when Serbia was in a lockdown). There is also a high share (38%) of so called other users, those who used the apps even before the pandemic. They said they had used delivery apps more frequently during the lockdown.

“Green ring” around Belgrade

The City of Belgrade has made a public call for the lease of the city’s agriculture land in the suburbs. Fourteen municipalities of Belgrade have agriculture land for lease. The Minister for Rural Welfare announced discussion with city authorities about forming “green ring” around Belgrade. The idea is to enable regular supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to the citizens of Belgrade but also other bigger cities in Serbia. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the e-commerce trade of food supplies. Lot of urban families are ordering their weekly needs of fresh fruits and veggies form farmers producing in the city outskirts.

EU for Natura 2000 in Serbia launched 

The project “EU for Natura 2000 in Serbia” launched the campaign “Healthy nature for a healthy life” with the aim to increase the awareness of Serbian citizens about the wonderful Serbian nature beauties and why it is important to protect them.

The pandemic taught us that natural resources and good health are essential for human well-being. A well-preserved ecosystem and biodiversity are crucial to ensure also the good health of our nature. Serbia has plenty of natural values, and through the project “EU for Natura 2000 in Serbia,” their conservation will be improved.

The bus campaign intends to show to the citizens the amazing landscapes of the country and to highlight the importance of the protection of biodiversity and nature conservation. Incredible nature photos that are part of the photo contest “Natura 2000 in Frame” will be circulating in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis for two months in different buses and trolleys. Healthy nature is healthier life for every person. This is why each and every one of us has a duty to protect the natural habitat and biodiversity. Serbia is host to many important and unique ecosystems and biodiversity. I am glad that we can here showcase some of them and raise awareness to protect these natural treasures, said the Head of EU Delegation to Serbia, adding that the Green Agenda was among the EU’s top priorities.   

The green transition CE-HUB 

Serbia will record a 1% growth of gross domestic product thanks to green transition, and if Serbians know that it will increase the resilience of their economy to climate change, then the transition to a circular economy is a good thing – This was stated by the Head of the Centre for Circular Economy of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce.

Presenting the digital platform, CE-HUB team associate pointed out that the goal of the platform is to help the economy and to see that business transformation can be significantly supported from various sources, including sources from the European Union. The Program Director for Environment and Climate Change at the EU Delegation to Serbia, Mr. Avignon, assessed that the transition process should be accelerated and that the EU Delegation, with limited funds, is trying to help the Serbian economy implement that process. “We recently published a call for expressions of interest for international organisations to propose measures for the five pillars of the green agenda,” Avignon stated. 

Plum brandy nominated for UNESCO list 

The Ministry of Culture submitted a request to UNESCO to list the Serbian plum brandy sljivovica as an intangible cultural heritage of humankind from Serbia. The Minister of Culture said that they submitted the request and hope that famous plum brandy sljivovica would be on the list next year. Sljivovica could be included in the list as an element of social practice and knowledge related to the preparation and use of traditional plum drink.