Serbia Newsflash Week 30

Heavy storms, disgruntled tomato growers, a petition against the water legislation, EIB support for pandemic recovery, the first Serbia agrovoltaic investment, decreasing household waste numbers - The week in Serbian agriculture

Dear readers,

In the upcoming summer vacation period, the LAN Budapest-Belgrade team will not publish weekly newsflashes and other articles until August 27.

We would like to wish our readers a pleasant summer. We will be back in the end of August with more news about the agro sectors in Serbia and Hungary.

Storm coming to a harvested field
Beeld: ©Tevin Trinh
Heavy rain and thunderstorms hit Serbia in the end of July.

Heavy storm hits Serbia 

A heavy storm with strong winds and hail hit parts of southern and western Serbia last week. The storm hit the city of Nis and headed southwards pelting the region with rain and hail, as well, with widespread thunderstorms. Farmers reported damages to their crops, especially orchards across the south-west part of the country. Western Serbia had its share of stormy weather. Farmers reported up to 30% crop damage in their orchards.

The first agrivoltaic project in Balkans

Fintel Energija and its partner MK Group announced the Agrosolar Kula project, the first agrivoltaic project in the Balkans and the biggest such project in Europe. The investment is worth €340 million, and it will be realized in the Municipality of Kula.

The project is expected to be launched in April 2022, and the implementation will take slightly over a year.

Agrivoltaics is about co-developing the same area of land for both solar power production and agriculture. MK Group has opted for organic agriculture on the land where the project is to be implemented, which means no pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizers. In the initial stage, the project will cover 700 ha of land in Kula. It will be divided into seven zones for various organic crops, the production of which will be possible for as many as 11 months a year. On nearly a third of the total area, solar panels will be placed with gaps for the agricultural area. The planned green energy production is some 832 GWh per year, meeting the needs of around 200,000 households.

State leases agricultural land for other purposes

In early July, the Serbian government adopted a decree on leasing agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes to individuals and legal entities for up to 30 years. It refers to arable agricultural land owned by the state (fields, meadows, gardens, orchards, and vineyards) of the sixth, seventh, and eighth cadastral class and uncultivated agricultural land (pastures, reed fields, and swamps). The land can be used for geological exploration or mineral exploitation (clay, gravel, sand, stone, oil, and natural gas) or the disposal of tailings, ash, slag, and other hazardous and harmful substances for a certain period, with the necessary approval of the ministry in charge of mining and geology matters. The land can also be used for the construction of wind farms and solar power plants. Agricultural Land Administration Director Branko Lakic stated for Tanjug news agency that the decree had been adopted to generate energy from renewable sources.

Tree shakers to cherry framers  

Nectar Group has bought two professional tree shakers for cherry picking ahead of the harvesting season and had lent it to fruit farmers from the Vladicin Han, south Serbia. This equipment will help cherry farmers to reduce production costs, i.e., the high cost of harvesting by hand.

“We want to help fruit farmers in this area. By letting them use our tree shakers to harvest cherries, they should see concrete results in terms of lower and sustainable production costs. The new tree shakers are already in operation, and we expect the effect of this investment to reach its full extent in the years ahead of us,” said Nectar Group Head of Supply Chain Mr. Jovanovic.

According to the President of the municipality, there should also be activities contributing to the sustainable development of the municipality and improving farmers’ living and working conditions. It is noted that Nectar has a circular production process and cooperation with 10,000 farmers through cooperatives. It also offers direct pre-financing to 1,300 farmers in the form of seeds and equipment.

Tomato producers dissatisfied with purchasing prices

Last week in town Leskovac, south Serbia, farmers handed out their tomatoes for free. This was a form of protest, in order to express their dissatisfaction with low wholesale prices, ranging between €0.08 and €0.21 per kg.

According to the farmers, who were giving their produce for free the previous week as well, the price is low because tomatoes are imported from neighboring countries. The president of the Vegetable Growers’ Crisis Staff, Mr. Kostic, told reporters that he had talked on the phone with Serbian Agriculture who promised to visit the city and meet with the unhappy farmers.

“Until then, we will prepare all the documents. The Ministry should help us and tomatoes should be considered a strategic product,” Kostic said, explaining that it meant banning tomato imports between June 1 and November 30. A vegetable grower from Lebane, told the press that they were unhappy after last week’s talks with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture. He noted that Serbia mostly imports tomatoes from Albania, Greece, and Turkey, among others.

The Serbian Agriculture Minister met with Leskovac tomato growers and announced that the state would help in solving their problems. The Minister said that he learned at the meeting that there were attempts at abusing the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) because tomatoes from third countries were imported with labels claiming the vegetable was coming from countries included in the CEFTA.

The Minister promised that the relevant phytosanitary inspection service and the police will tackle the problem much like the issue with malpractices and re-exports of apples to Russia in 2017 and 2018 had been solved. At the meeting, it was also announced that the Ministry would try to find an investor for the opening of a tomato processing factory in Leskovac.

Empty reusable plastic cups laid out in a pile
Beeld: ©EKM-Mittelsachsen
Between 2010 and 2019, Serbia reduced its aggregate household waste by a staggering 70%, which is the highest decrease figure in Europe for this period.

Call on signing petition against the Law on Waters 

The NGO “Regulatory Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment” (RERI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) called on the citizens of Serbia to sign the petition for calling for a referendum on, as they said, unconstitutional and illegal amendments to the Law on Waters.

They warned that, among other things, the amendments to the Law on water, which the Serbian parliament passed on July 14, changed the regulation about ways for using and giving under lease river basin land. They envisage the introduction of “a direct agreement” in leasing water land in public ownership and use of river sediments and set floating objects (rafts). More than 40 civil society organisations have already demanded the withdrawal of the Law on Waters, they say. They recollected that the vast majority of citizens of Slovenia (87% turnout) voted against the amendments to the Law on water at a recent referendum, and refused to submit their water resources to uncontrolled usurping without any real control mechanism. RERI and WWF said that Article 2 of the Law on Referendum stipulates that citizens decide on issues within the Parliament competence, while Article 10 envisages that the Parliament passes the act on calling a national referendum at the proposal of at least 100,000 voters whose signatories the two organisations want to collect. 

EIB provides €200 million support to SMEs in Serbia

The European Investment Bank (EIB) provided €200 million to the Development Fund of the Republic of Serbia to support SMEs in recovering from the COVID-19 crisis as quickly as possible.

The Bank's seat in Luxembourg says it is the sixth loan approved for Serbia under the EU's support package. It is expected to preserve some 47,000 jobs and create around 5,500 new ones. It is also noted that the EIB has so far provided €380 million to help Serbia recover from the pandemic. The EIB funds will be available to small Serbian companies to cover working capital needs and finance long-term investments under more flexible and favorable terms. “The EIB continues to support the country in overcoming the most immediate COVID-related consequences, strengthening its economy, and advancing with EU integration. Support for the private sector is an important part of that process, and our priority at this moment is to help revive production while protecting the supply chains and jobs,” said EIB Vice-President Lilyana Pavlova, who is in charge of operations in Serbia. Serbia’s Parliamentary Committee on Finance gave the green light for a €200 million loan from EIB.

Serbia reports biggest drop in household waste recycling in Europe

Serbia recorded the largest decline in the recycling of household waste in Europe in 2010-2019, down by as much as 70%, and the average recycling rate was only 0.4%, reports the Balkan Green Energy News portal. During that time, household waste recycling in Croatia soared by 655%, so their recycling rate in 2019 was a solid 30.2%, much higher compared to the 4% rate recorded in 2010, says a study conducted by Clear It Waste Services, a company providing waste disposal services. Among the 32 countries observed, Croatia is ranked second in this respect. Lithuania is number one since household recycling in that country went up by 914%, and the recycling rate in 2019 was 49.7% as opposed to the 5% registered in 2010. Montenegro is in third place, with a rise of 511% in 2010-2019, but the country’s average recycling rate was only 3.6%. Slovenia was ranked sixth (+164%), Bulgaria and France are both in 16th place (+29%), and Greece is 17th (+23%). After Serbia, the second-biggest drop in household waste recycling was reported in Romania (-10%).

Prices of goods and services in Serbia 42% lower than in the EU everage

Price levels for consumer goods and services in Serbia are 42% lower than the EU average, according to an analysis by the statistical office of the EU, Eurostat. Consumer prices in Serbia are at the same level as in Albania, slightly higher compared to the rest of the region. In comparison with the EU average, consumer prices in North Macedonia are half as low, Bosnia & Herzegovina 45% lower, and Montenegro 43% lower. Price levels for alcoholic beverages and tobacco in Serbia stand at 62% of the EU average, food and non-alcoholic beverages 80% of the EU average, while price levels for clothing and footwear are close to the EU average (around 93%). As for consumer electronics (televisions, computers, and computer equipment), price levels in Serbia are above the EU average, much like in other countries in the region, apart from North Macedonia. Price levels for electricity, gas and other fuels in the region are around 50% lower than the EU average. In Serbia, price levels for communication services stand at 73% of the EU average. In other countries in the region, those prices are higher than the EU average, apart from North Macedonia. Restaurants and hotels in the region are about 50% cheaper relative to the EU average, with North Macedonia and Albania reporting the lowest prices and Bosnia & Herzegovina the highest prices. The Eurostat price survey, conducted in 37 European countries, covers more than 2,000 consumer goods and services.