Serbia Newsflash Week 8, 2022

Comission approval for Serbian hazel seedling export to the EU, millions of euros saved on packaging, skyrocketing food prices, analysts urging to increase Serbian commodity reserve stockpiles, successes at the Gul Food Expo, and river pollution becoming a region-wide environmental issue - the week in Serbian agriculture

An elderly woman shopping in a grocery store.
Due to the various ongoing crises, food prices in Serbia are expected to continue to rise in the near future.

Export of hazel seedlings from Serbia to the EU approved

Following an official approval by the European Commission (EC), Serbia is now able to export hazel seedlings to the EU without any additional requests stated the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture.

Previously, per a 2019 EU decision the imports of high-risk plants from all countries into the EU had been suspended. With the recent approval, Serbia became the third country in the world that can now export hazel seedlings to the territory of the European Union. The first countries to receive exemptions were Japan, Australia and Serbia, followed by New Zealand, the US, and Turkey. It was pointed out that Serbia was among the first countries to be able to prepare an extremely extensive country dossier, which included collecting all scientific and technical data ever published on harmful organisms related to this plant species in Serbia, including control systems put in place as well as pesticide registration reports.

It is reiterated in the official statement that this is the second permit Serbia received, after obtaining the same permit for the export of apple fruit trees to the EU in 2020.

In the following period, a decision on the export of stone fruit seedlings is expected. The Ministry of Agriculture emphasized that the approval of exports is of great importance, especially for nurseries from the Rasina district, the territory of the City of Sabac and the West Backa district which also largely contributed to the preparation of the extensive documentation that was submitted to the European Commission.

Millions of euros saved by extending the d-line for changes on product declarations

Producers of food products will have a 10-month longer deadline to change product declarations, thus instead of March 1, they will be able to fulfill that obligation by January 1, 2023, stated the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS), on whose initiative the deadline was extended.

Delaying the application of the new regulation will enable producers to use the existing packaging and thus save millions of euros. At the request of producers from the food industry sector, PKS sent an initiative to the Ministry of Agriculture to delay the application of regulations governing the declaration, labeling, and advertising of food.

It is the obligation of the manufacturer to amend and adapt their existing declarations to the new provisions concerning the indication of the country of origin or the country and place of origin of the main ingredient of the product. The Director of operations at Baby Food Factory in Dobanovci, Milena Cvetkovic, said that thanks to the delay in implementing the declaration obligation, the company alone prevented losses of around €100 thousand. “We could not adapt so quickly and use all the existing amount of packaging, which is the main problem of most manufacturers. Due to the joint initiative by food processors and the efficient work of PKS, we managed to extend the deadline for the application of regulations,” said Ms. Cvetkovic.

Food prices to continue to increase 

Food prices will continue to increase in the upcoming period due to the pandemic, energy crisis and ongoing international issues. For this reason, Serbia's priority task should be to support farmers during the upcoming sowing season, Mr. Milan Prostran, agricultural economist, recently stated. Mr. Prostran supported the measures recently adopted by the Serbian Government in order to limit food prices and pointed out that they should last at least until the summer. “Helping farmers to sow their land is currently the most important task,” Mr. Prostran stated for the news agency Tanjug.

Mr. Prostran reiterates that food prices have been increasing for a year. This is influenced by the rise of prices of energy, mineral fertilizers, and plant protection products. “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been warning for several months about the upward price trend, estimating that it will not stop any time soon,” says Mr. Prostran, adding that in Germany alone, it was estimated that the price of agricultural and food products will increase by 7% in the coming period. “I have been dealing with this sector for about fifty years and remember some several crisis periods, but no such a price jumps. The crisis is really serious,” stated agricultural economist.

Confluence of the Lim and Drina rivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Beeld: ©Julian Nyča | Wikimedia
The confluence of the Lim and Drina rivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. River pollution is becoming a real issue for the region that seems to require a coordinated regional effort to solve.

Experts: It is important that Serbia increase its commodity reserves significantly

Experts are suggesting that Serbia should significantly increase its stockpiles of basic food-stuffs due to the growth of prices on the global market, but also due to the fact that the quantity of state commodity reserves is significantly smaller than it was 30 years ago.

Agricultural economist Milan Prostran points out for daily Danas that the state commodity reserves used to be much higher, as well as that there used to be strategic commodity reserves in case of extraordinary circumstances or of disturbances in food prices.

“After 2000, the level of commodity reserves began to decline rapidly under various pretexts. One of them was that Serbia would soon become a member of the EU, which did not happen. We are currently facing rising food prices, so we should increase the commodity reserves,” explains Mr. Prostran, adding that the food products that should definitely be stockpiled in the commodity reserves are wheat, corn, oils, sugar, flour, one type of meat, and powdered milk, while imported goods should include beans, rice, and salt.  

Agricultural expert Vojislav Stankovic also believes that the quantities of necessary agricultural products in commodity reserves should be increased and that this is reasonable even in less significant crisis situations on the food market than the current one. Mr. Stankovic emphasized that had there been enough stocks of oil and meat in the commodity reserves in the previous period, the prices of these products would not have increased so drastically.

Succesful performance of Serbian food industry at “Gul Food Expo” in Dubai

Serbian companies closed new export deals exceeding €3 million at the recently held Gulfood International Food Expo in Dubai, stated the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS), which organized the performance.

Mr. Zoran Delic from the Center for the Organization of PKS Expos said that new business opportunities and arrangements have been opened for most Serbian producers at the Dubai Expo in the UAE and other markets such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, India, Israel, Kuwait, and Iran, but also Canada, Australia, and Japan. “There was great interest for fresh apples, frozen fruits and vegetables, cheese spreads and feta cheese, honey, low-calorie and extra jams, fruit juices, truffle products, ajvar, fish and seafood, soups and popcorn,” said Mr. Delic who also reiterated that fifteen food industry companies attended the Gulfood, organized by PKS and the Development Agency of Serbia, the representatives of which had over 700 bilateral talks with potential partners, presenting their production and export potentials.

More than 4 thousand companies from 120 countries, including global food producers, distributors, and retail chains, gathered at Gulf Food Expo in Dubai this February.

Landfills floating on the rivers of Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro

At certain sections of rivers in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro, people cannot even see their reflection in the water from all the trash floating on the surface reports the CNN affiliate for Balkans, TV N1.

However, what we see is precisely the reflection of today’s population – the way of life, environmental awareness and the care of the authorities. The countries are so close and so connected that the trash is sent from one country to another. In all three countries, nature spared no cost to treat us with beauty, but people spared no ways to contaminate and ruin that beauty.

The Lim river used to be one of the cleanest rivers in Serbia, but it has been anything but that for years. Feces, chemicals and tons of various garbage are the reality now. It is mostly endangered by the several dozen illegal landfills in towns of Prijepolje and Priboj.

According to Natasa Milivojevic, an associate for the WWF, the solving of the problem started by the remediation of the Stanjevine landfill a year ago, but there are still about forty to sixty illegal landfills along the Lim river in Serbia. The authorities are working on a few projects to solve the problem.

“It’s certain that the pollution of the Lim will be reduced drastically, but only if you solve the cause as well. The authorities need to be aware that, by solving the problems, they would be directly contributing to EU strategies, as well as the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans,” Ms. Milivojevic says.

According to Marko Vujic from the Environmental Department at the Faculty of Political Science, what lacks in Serbia is penalty policy and inspection and supervision. Mr. Vujic says that there is no information whether someone was found guilty of polluting rivers. Vujic also says that one great problem is the lack of environmental awareness of citizens in all three states.

Ms. Milivojevic notes that the problem is international and should be adressed equally in all three states. However, as Mr. Vujic says, cross-border cooperation has not shown specific results so far, and that “everything done so far boils down to the EU’s intervention.”