Serbia Newsflash Week 2

Nature conservation, river cleaning, COVID-19 measures, development news, flooding and a legal battle over honey - The week in Serbian agriculture

A thistle flower and panoramic view of a river valley between hills in the  Đerdap National Park in Serbia
Beeld: ©Fotografbee
Panoramic view in the Đerdap National Park. There is plenty of room for improvement in nature conservation in Serbia today - According to a recent report, with 7% of the total area under protection, Serbia ranks 33rd out of 35 observed countries in terms of conservation efforts.

Anti-COVID measures remain in effect

The Serbian Government decided that all previous anti Covid-19 measures remain in force: obligatory PCR test for entering the country, mandatory face masks indoors, banned gatherings of more than five people, working hours of catering facilities until 8 pm, while grocery stores will work until 9 pm. Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Montenegro; Albania; North Macedonia and Bulgaria do not need negative PCR tests to enter Serbia.

ING Bank: Serbia Can Expect Full Recovery to Pre-pandemic Levels

Serbia should be one of the few European countries to witness a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021, Dutch ING Bank said in a macroeconomic forecast for Serbia.

While the resurgence of coronavirus infections has dashed hopes for a rapid V-shaped recovery, 2021 should still be a good year for Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia, the review said.

“Possibly benefiting from the strongest growth momentum in Europe, the Serbian economy is projected to have contracted by only 1.1% in 2020 (official and ING estimates). It should also be one of the few countries to witness a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021 when we forecast GDP growth of 5.5%, slightly below the 6.0% official estimates but still above most market predictions”, the report writes.

Another governmental aid package for the economy 

The Serbian President said in a TV interview that the economy would get a new package of aid from the government but warned that it would not be as generous as the aid provided to companies in 2020. He told TV Happy that no decision has been taken yet on a possible new deferment of tax payments which were carried over from last year as part of the aid to the economy. The President said that “companies will get more support possible in the form of two or three payments of half the minimum wage. Efforts will also be made to extend guarantee schemes - which have proved to be excellent, providing €1.5 billion euros in assistance – to ensure two €500 million rounds of further assistance. The first agreements with the US International Development Finance Corporation, worth $300-400 million, are expected to be reached soon. “

Sunoko opens Serbia’s first private agricultural R&D centre 

The agricultural company Sunoko literally has the sweetest portfolio - Their core business is sugar production. A member of the MK Group, Sunoko has recently opened an agricultural research and development centre, the first of its kind in Serbia. It is also the first privately-owned R&D centre in the Serbian agriculture sector. Using cutting-edge technology, it will enable more efficient sugar beet production, keeping up with the latest scientific research and advances, as in line with guidelines of good agricultural practice. “By opening an R&D centre and thanks to leading-edge research and laboratory capacities and expert staff capacity, we will be able to identify all potential problems in sugar beet production and respond to all needs in that process in an adequate manner, from the very first step,” said Mr Trkulja, the Head of the Sunoko R&D centre. 

Floods hit southern Serbia

Snow and heavy rains over the past few days have been causing problems for parts of southern and western Serbia, leaving some villages without power and flooding roads and field crops. The national road company Putevi Srbije said that several roads in southern Serbia were closed due to flooding. Since there the raining has stopped and the flooded rivers started to slowly return to their beds, the situation in southern Serbia is calming down gradually, but it was still bad enough for two cities and ten municipalities, mostly in the south and southeast of the country, where the emergency situation was introduced over heavy rains and snow that caused flash floods and problems in water supply. “The biggest problem was with torrents. Some creeks unregistered on the map became active and filled in all the depressions and places that have long existed as a danger,” said Mr Plemic, the official from Serbia’s Emergency Sector. He added that the snow melting and heavy rain caused the floods on January 8 and 9.

Cleaning starts at Lake Potpec

As reported in our Week 1 Newsflash, huge quantities of garbage have been floating on the surface of certain rivers in Serbia and especially in Lake Potpec. The cleaning of Potpec Lake, which has been literally paved with garbage since December 30, started on January 11 and will last for the next 20-30 days. As some have estimated, about 20 thousand m3 of garbage will have to be removed. This is the waste that the Lim River picked up from landfills upstream and dragged into the lake. The Head of “Serbia Waters”, Mr Puzovic, said that after the lake is cleaned, they will talk with the state electric company about setting up some barriers upstream in the river Lim to catch the garbage. However, he said, this is a short-term measure, and a long-term solution would lie in cooperation with Bosnia and Montenegro regarding the landfills that are close to rivers.

Water flowing in a stream next to a verdant green field
Beeld: ©eyestetix
Last year, 52,400 hectares of farmland were irrigated in Serbia, 11.9% less than a year earlier. Today, 93.2% of water used in irrigation in Serbia comes from rivers and streams.

Serbia does not have a plastic waste management system 

The State Audit Institution (DRI) warned that Serbia does not have a plastic waste management system. The DRI report on plastic waste management said that the country produced 897 thousand metric tons of plastic waste between 2017 and 2019 and that there was no system to collect that waste and recycle it. It said that just 2% of plastic waste or 14 thousand tons is being recycled, leaving the country without the benefits of a circular approach to the problem and causing environmental harm. The report said that Serbia had aligned its regulations on waste management with the European Union acquis but had not created the mechanisms to implement them. DRI had performed audits to inspect business expediency concerning plastic waste management. The main recommendation is to improve the system for separate collection of municipal waste to achieve a higher recycling rate. It warned that the national plan on waste management for the 2015-19 period had not been adopted and that no reliable data on communal waste management is available. The DRI said that the Environmental Protection Ministry failed to inspect packaging waste management facilities which led it to make several recommendations to the ministry.  

Serbia ranks low when it comes to protected terrestrial areas

Luxembourg has emerged as the European country with the highest percentage of protected land, with three quarters of its territory under protection, while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania and Serbia remained at the bottom of the list composed by the SaveOnEnergy website based on input from the European Environment Agency. Slovenia comes second, with 1,891 protected sites, covering 72% of the country's territory. Bosnia is the last, having protected a mere 4% of its territory. Serbia ranks 33rd out of 35 states, with protected areas covering 7% of the total area. As for the Western Balkans, Albania's protected natural areas cover 17% of its territory, while Montenegro and Croatia have protected 13% each.

Approximately one thousand hectares of land abandoned  

The Agricultural Land Administration (ALA) of the Ministry of Agriculture, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), identified close to 1.000 ha of abandoned state land in 13 local municipalities last year, said Mr Lakic, Director of ALA. "That included a field inspection of 1.398 state-owned plots with a surface area of about 2.200 hectares. Photo and video recordings were made in the field and a drone was used to get a better overview of the situation," Lakic said. He added that all six cities and municipalities from the Kolubara administrative district, four municipalities from the Moravica administrative district (Cacak, Ivanjica, Gornji Mi-lanovac and Lucani), the cadastral municipality of Veliko Srediste in the Vrsac area, Irig and the municipality Medijana in Nis, were inspected. It was discovered that 546 plots with a total surface area of 948 hectares were abandoned and uncultivated, while 852 plots with an area of 1.228 hectares were being used. "Data on these parcels will be posted on the Geoportal of the Administration in the coming days, and the parcels that were abandoned will be marked and will be offered to farmers, if other legal requirements have been met, at the starting price of zero dinars," Lakic announced.

Irrigation in Serbia

Some 52,400 hectares of farmland were irrigated in Serbia in 2020, which is 11.9% less than a year earlier, the Republic Statistics Office (RZS) said. Fields and gardens accounted for 91.7% of the irrigated land while orchards accounted for five percent and other farm land for 3.3%. Just over 69 million m3 of water were used for irrigation which is 2.1% more than a year earlier. Most of the water was taken from rivers and streams (93.2%) with the remainder coming from underground streams, lakes, reservoirs and water supply networks.

Beekeepers report LIDL to the Market Inspection over honey advertisement

The Association of Beekeeping Organizations of Serbia (SPOS) announced that it had reported Lidl to the market inspection as “there are reasonable grounds to believe the retail chain has engaged in deceptive practices” in selling honey. The SPOS says Lidl is trying to assume a privileged position in the market and is advertising honey “contrary to regulations.” The Association adds that the law prohibits ads containing the phrase “100% natural honey” since honey can only be entirely natural, and if it is not, “it cannot be legally called honey.” “It means beekeepers are not allowed to state that in advertisement, but Lidl is doing it,” the SPOS points out. According to the beekeepers, the matter is entirely within the competence of the market inspection, not the veterinary inspection, as the issue does not refer to the quality of honey, and the mentioned writing is not found on a label. The SPOS also says they will not accept it if the market inspection says it is not competent to tackle the issue. In that case, the SPOS says it will have to notify top officials and all the media about the lack of the relevant authority’s response.