Serbia Newsflash Week 7, 2022

Tension between farmers and government escalates to protests, livestock farming dipping into red, new equipment subsidies announced, export to the UAE, a stocking up in anticipation of coming international crisis and Russian expansion into Serbia's retail trade sector - The week in Serbian agriculture

Beeld: ©Robert Bye
Stakeholders have been reporting that livestock numbers in Serbia have been steadily decreasing for years.

Farmers protest in Serbia  

Several Farmers’ Associations protested during the week, blocking roads with their tractors and expressing dissatisfaction with the policy of the Ministry of Agriculture. Tractors were driven through the town of Raca in central Serbia and in Srbobran, in Vojvodina, the Northern part of the country.

The producers’ issues are with the prices of fertilizers and diesel fuel, as well as the state subsidies which they said were too low.

Farmers sent letters to the President and the Prime Minister of Serbia regarding the problems they face in their respective regions, and, among other things, demanded the abolition of excise duties on Euro diesel as well as higher subsidies.

“We no longer want to have any talks with the relevant Minister, as these problems have been presented dozens of times in the last ten years and there has never been a solution, only empty promises. That is why we demand an urgent meeting with Prime MInister Ana Brnabic by Friday, February 18, as well as the fulfillment of our demands. In case there is no response (to the invitation to the meeting), farmers will be forced to express dissatisfaction and protest,” the disgruntled producers emphasize.

According to the statement, in order to protect small and medium agricultural producers and preserve villages, the protesters demand that the Serbian Government abolish excise duties on Euro diesel for registered agricultural farms. They are also asking for subsidies worth €200 per hectare, and for their payment within sixty days from the submission of the request. Farmers are also demanding that the subsidies from the previous period be paid immediately. Among the demands is the regulation of uncontrolled imports of frozen meat and milk powder and that their requirements should be systematically and permanently resolved by adopting appropriate laws.

Livestock farming in Serbia critical  

In Serbia, the livestock fund has halved in the last 30 years, and it is especially worrying that the number of breeding categories are decreasing, so if urgent measures are not taken to stop this trend, it will take many years for livestock farming to recover, says agricultural expert Milan Prostran. “The alarms are going off, warning that livestock farming in Serbia is in a deep crisis. It is incomprehensible that this is happening in a country that is one of the ten largest corn exporters in the world,” Mr. Prostran told Beta news agency.

The Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia (RZS) stated that on December 1, 2021, the number of cattle in Serbia decreased by 3% compared to December 2020, and the number of pigs decreased by 3.9%. The number of goats decreased by 3.6%, while the number of sheep increased by 0.6% and poultry by 0.7%.

According to RZS, there were about 860 thousand heads of cattle, 2.86 million pigs, 1.7 million sheep, and 195 thousand goats in Serbia in December 2021. There were also 15.34 million heads of poultry. Compared to the ten-year average (2011-2020), the total number of cattle is now lower by 5.1%, pigs by 6.5%, goats by 6.7%, and poultry by 9.5%, but the number of sheep is 1,8% higher.  

Commenting on the data published by the RZS on the decrease of livestock last year, Mr. Prostran said that the true image of the situation in livestock farming would be revealed only after the complete census in 2023 because estimates are published between the two censuses. “In Serbia, livestock populations have been decreasing since 1990, and the trend of falling numbers can be understood if we follow the trend from 2000 when Serbia had 1.27 million cattle, while by 2019 that number dropped to 878 thousand heads. There had been 4 million pigs in 2000, while in 2019, the number was about 2.79 million. In this period, only the number of sheep increased due to the introduction of subsidies, so in 2000, the figure was 1.6 million, and in 2019, it was 1.77 million,” said Mr. Prostran, adding that the reasons for the reduction of livestock are numerous, from sanctions to falling prices of live weight, rising food prices in the last six months, and increased imports of frozen meat and livestock.

This decline may be related to the warnings of breeders on several occasions last year that they would have to reduce the number of livestock because the purchase prices of meat and milk did not cover the production costs due to higher prices of animal feed and fuel. In the middle of the year, pig breeders demanded the enormous import of pork be banned, as well as that the purchase price be increased from €1.1 to €1.4.

Milk producers have repeatedly complained about the low purchase price of milk, which is around €0.3 with a premium. They claim that due to the increase in the price of food for cattle, as well as of fuel, the purchase price of milk should have been at least €0.47 per liter.

Close-up picture of harvested wheat grain
Beeld: ©Pexels
Due to the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the Serbian Commodity Reserves started increasing their stockpile, importing what is needed, and preparing a customs policy for the export of domestically produced, strategic products.

IPARD public call for procurement of new tractors 

The Paying Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture of Serbia has published the seventh public call for the filing of requests for the approval of projects for IPARD incentives for asset investments for agricultural holdings and for the procurement of new tractors. Requests may be submitted between February 17 and April 22, 2022. The producers of milk, meat, fruit and vegetables and other crops (certain grains and industrial plants), grapes and eggs are included. The subject of the public call is investments in physical property and acceptable costs of the procurement of new tractors, with standard parts, devices and equipment for agricultural works, including the accompanying tractor cabin. The power of the tractor whose procurement is subsidised from the IPARD funds depends on the sector of the investment and the scope of the production. For example, if the applicant has an orchard and has 2 to 10 registered hectares, they will be able to procure a tractor of 60 kW. A stronger one, of 80 kW, can be procured by those who have larger sown areas, between 10 and 50 ha. This call secures funds of €11.4 million, in line with the Rulebook and the special decree which regulates the distribution of incentives in agriculture and rural development. 

UAE market interested in Serbian food products 

Supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia (PKS) and the Development Agency of Serbia, thirteen Serbian companies have exhibited top-quality products at the Dubai “Gulfood Fair”, the largest food industry show in the Gulf region.

The products showcased at the Serbia Pavilion include truffles, raspberries, honey, jams and marmalades, dairy products, frozen and smoked fish, seafood, ajvar, soups, spices, teas, fruit juices and nectars produced in Serbia.

Aleksandar Bogunovic from the PKS said the UAE was a major, high-paying market and that, to a large extent, the local cuisine was also European as the country was tourism-oriented. "Serbia has an entire range of products to offer to this market, too. Also, meeting standards such as the halal standard is not unfeasible, as demonstrated by Serbian companies that are already operating in this market," Mr. Bogunovic said. He noted that Serbia had a great potential as a strong producer of fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, and added that it is the same with the Serbian animal processing and confectionery industries. 

Commodity Reserves of Serbia increases its food stocks due to the situation in Ukraine 

The Republic Directorate for Commodity Reserves of Serbia will increase the volume of their stocks of all products so that they can meet the quarterly needs of the population in the event of an unforeseen situation or market disruption, daily Danas writes. The Republic Directorate for Commodity Reserves will primarily increase the volume of energy, wheat, corn, sugar, and oil, the Ministry of Trade told the newspaper. For some products imported into Serbia, such as rice, beans, and salt, the quantities will be increased in order to meet the needs for more than three months. In case of a market disruption, as stated by the Ministry, Serbia, as a food producer, will protect the domestic market with its customs policy, i. e. prevent the export of strategic products and thus ensure a full supply of basic foodstuffs. As it was stated, the decision to increase commodity reserves was influenced by events at the global level, primarily constant inflationary pressures on the prices of basic foodstuffs. Another reason is the possible outbreak of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, countries that are large producers of food and energy, which is why many countries have increased their reserves.

Russian Torgoservis Group to open its first store in Belgrade

The Russian-based Torgoservis Group, which has been operating in Serbia since the end of 2020 through two chains of discount stores, announced the opening of the first Svetofor market in Belgrade and three other locations in the country, writes the Retail Serbia portal.

This Russian discount store company will soon open its first store in the outskirts of Belgrade. Svetofor will continue to expand on the Serbian market by opening three more stores, in the towns of Cacak, Trstenik, and Kikinda.

The Torgoservis Group operates in Serbia with two independent companies, Beltorg, which includes Svetofor stores, and Ros Produkt Servis Belgrade, which runs MERE stores. Currently, there are about fifteen discount stores, of which eleven are part of the MERE chain, and the rest are part of Svetofor. The offer of these stores, where the goods are mostly exhibited on transport palettes, includes about 40% of imported items from Russia. The average area of the Torgoservis Group store in Serbia is about 1.000 m2.

The first MARE store in Serbia was opened at the end of 2020, while the chain of Svetofor’s operations started a few months later.

The Torgservis Group was founded in 2009 in Russia where it has more than a thousand stores is the third-largest retail chain. The group operates in more than twenty countries, with about two thousand stores. They are planning to enter the markets of Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia with the MERE brand soon, Retail Serbia writes.