Serbia Newsflash Week 42

EU accession news, COVID-19 effects and governmental measures, rising food prices, innovative solutions by students, falling crop yields, HORECA labor shortages - The week in Serbian agriculture

A nice box of tacos
Beeld: ©Fidel Fernando
Food delivery has become a popular service in Serbia during the pandemic. But the sector is dealing with serious labor shortages - And businesses have to employ foreign workers in delivery in order to be able to keep up with the market demand.

Serbia’s EU accession process

In its annual report on Serbia, the European Commission recommended the opening of Cluster 3 (Competitiveness and Growth) and Cluster 4 (Green Agenda and Sustainable Connectivity) in Serbia's EU accession talks.

In the report, presented in Strasbourg on Tuesday, October 19, the EC noted progress made by Serbia in aligning with EU benchmarks, in particular in taxation policy and the energy sector. The report notes "limited progress" in public administration reform, judicial reform, the fight against corruption and organized crime and in the media sphere. The EC almost regularly recommends the opening of negotiation chapters, i.e. negotiating clusters. However, the actual opening of clusters is decided by the Member States in Council . The Agro Cluster (resources, agriculture and cohesion) remains closed since there is still lot of work to be done. The full report can be found here.

COVID passes for bars/restaurants introduced

The  Crisis Staff, Serbia’s central body for the management and prevention of the coronavirus pandemic, held a session on October 20, where it was decided that “COVID passes” would be introduced for indoor spaces of restaurants and bars. These measures will enter into force at 10 PM next Saturday.

Visiting indoor spaces will require these passes. Every day from 10 PM, only vaccinated citizens, those who have a PCR test no older than 72 hours or an antigen test no older than 48 hours, and those with a an immunity certificate no older than seven months will be able to enter the indoor spaces of restaurants and bars.

(The number of Covid daily infections remains extremely high, with Serbia ranking second in Europe based on its 7-day rolling average (888 cases per million). The vaccination rate remains low at 42% (the percentage is higher however in the adult population). In terms of administered booster vaccines, Serbia ranks 3rd in Europe, also due to Serbia’s early start of the mass vaccination program in January 2021).

The pandemic is causing major problems for poultry farmers

The COVID-19 crisis is causing issues for poultry farmers, primarily with the sale of table eggs. In addition, there was a significant increase in prices of raw materials for animal feed and the exceptional price increase for all types of energy, packaging and transport is posing a risk to the  future of poultry farmers, states Mr Rade Skoric, Director of the Poultry Business Association.

The market price of table eggs is lower than a year and a half ago. The further increase of egg prices seems unlikely as local markets will not able to buy at higher prices whilst there are  no possibilities to export.

Food prices will continue to rise

Agricultural economist Milan Prostran estimated that the latest wave of rising energy and food prices in Serbia puts severe pressure on the living standards of Serbian citizens because as these costs make up a considerable portion of the family expenses. "The costs of feeding a family of three in Serbia requires 35-40% of the family’s disposable income, while in Western countries that share amounts to merely 5-15% percent," said Prostran. With that plus monthly bills, only 45% of the family budget remains.

Mr. Prostran estimated that food prices will rise will continue to rise in parallel with fuel prices until next summer, but the cost of automotive fuel is not the only factor of the increasing price of food. According to Mr. Prostran, food prices in Serbia are rising both because the livestock has been devastated and because the state's allocations for the development of the agricultural sector are minimal. He believes that the state should increase incentives for farmers, equaling the sector’s contribution to  the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

According to official statistics, agriculture currently accounts for  a little more than 10% of Serbia’s GDP, while financial incentives for the sector represent only 5% of the Republic’s budget, i.e., €400 million.

Chart of the EU accession chapters
Beeld: ©European Policy Centre
The chart of EU accession chapters organized into clusters.

Students’ innovative solutions for quarantine pest

36 student teams made it to the finals of nation-wide competition “Student teams with the best idea” for the best technological innovation in the category of student teams with the best idea. The "Phytoplasma" team was the only one from the field of agriculture. Under the motto "Better to prevent than to shrink – Plasma against phytoplasma” the team presented an innovative product intended for early diagnosis of plant quarantine diseases, (primarily for the detection of quarantine diseases in vines: phytoplasma) and won the third place. This innovative product is based on the concept that any biological material, including plants and pathogens, has a genetic imprint of a certain wavelengths range it emits.

Lower yields of field crops

2021 has been an extremely unfavorable year for certain sectors in agriculture, and in the opinion of some farmers, it could be declared as an “elemental disaster year”. The animal feed market has already been affected, and inevitably, it will result in the price increase of meat. Producers have already increased the price of ready-made fodder. Besides the high purchase prices of field crops, farmers decided to save as much wheat, soybeans and corn for their own needs as possible. "In the coming winter, cattle feed will be worth a real fortune. That's exactly why I won't sell corn. The question whether I will have enough animal feed until the next harvest remains. Prices are already high and will continue to rise”, says Dragan Lukić from Salaš Noćajski.

Food delivery services suffer from labor shortages

The food delivery sector has experienced expansion in the last two years during the coronavirus pandemic, but despite the monthly salary of up to €1.000, there are not many people interested in this job in Belgrade, stated the national broadcaster RTS.

For this reason, employers found labor outside of the borders of Serbia. Today, mainly Uzbeks, but also Ukrainians, North-Macedonians and Bosnia and Herzegovinians deliver food to Belgrade’s hungry citizens, said Stefan Surlan, the founder of one of the delivery services. According to him, the demand is great and there are not enough delivery workers. He adds that there are not enough applicants for job advertisements and that as many as 60% of candidates do not appear at the interview. "We decided to import labor and we did it with Uzbeks. They speak Russian and it is easier for them to learn Serbian. Uzbekistan is a country with 36 million people, they are now in transition, and they are a very good workforce," said Stefan Surlan. According to the March data of the Center for Public Policy Research, there are about 356 thousand users of food delivery apps in Serbia. On average, they order food 2.7 times a month and those deliveries are worth around €11 on average.