Does conventional agriculture (still) represent our chance on the world market?

Serbia Can Utilise It’s Potentials More Intelligently

If the export of conventional agriculture products implies wheat and corn, then we have long since learned the lesson that their production contributes little to economic growth and profitable exports. However, if we diversify production, focus on products with higher added value and introduce high standards in production, the possibility exists that we can generate profits on the resources we possess

Serbia will this year produce enough wheat for itself, while more than a million tonnes will be available for export. This is good news, but in overall terms, the production of low value-added agricultural products places Serbia at the bottom of the ranks of countries that utilise their resources intelligently.

Branislav Nedimović
Serbian Minister Of Agriculture, Forestry And Water Management

We Support Producers in Creating Innovative Products

In order to utilise the potential of Serbian agriculture in the most efficient way, it is necessary to monitor market, production and scientific trends in production, and to introduce innovative products that will distinguish our products from those of the competition and make them competitive on the market

Conventional production is certainly our chance, which Serbian agriculture is now proving with the recognition of its products on the world market. However, this should not be – nor is it – the ultimate scope of the market positioning of our products, given the great potential for production that contains a higher added value in and of itself, which primarily implies organic production and the cultivation of produce with geographical indications of origin.

Given the unfavourable structure of exports of agricultural and food products, in which only a quarter of the value of exports comprises processed agricultural products, while as much as three quarters of the value is from primary products, the orientation towards unconventional forms of agricultural production, such as organic production, provides a possibility to increase the value of exports.

If we also consider the growing demand for this type of product at the world level, as well as Serbia’s raw material and processing potential in this domain, organic production certainly represents an opportunity for domestic agriculture to advance in this direction. It is possible to achieve a similar level of production specialisation, but with even greater market recognition of products, through the cultivation of products with geographical indications of origin. Serbia also has high potential in this area, and that is particularly evident in the field of the protection of traditional products, with special production procedures, as well as Serbian wines.

However, such production methods, which are unconventional, are subject to specific EU rules and regulations, with which Serbia needs to harmonise during the accession period. It is precisely this harmonisation process that is the subject of negotiations under the auspices of EU Accession Negotiations Chapter 11, which includes not only the transposing of European regulations into national legislation but also the establishment of mechanisms for their implementation, through the building and strengthening of the institutional framework.

In order to not only successfully conclude accession negotiations on Serbia’s EU membership but also to utilise Serbian agriculture’s potential in the most effective way, it is necessary to monitor market, production and scientific trends in production, and that is only achieved through the continuous introduction of innovations and innovative solutions that distinguish a product from the competition and render it competitive on the market. In this sense, the Ministry wholeheartedly supports the innovative activities of our producers, both institutionally and through budget support.

Goran Živkov
Founder & Programming Manager of Seedev, Agricultural Engineer, Former Assistant Minister and Minister of Agriculture in Serbia

We Need to Enter High-quality Markets

I think that public policymakers and farmers don’t have a sufficient understanding of how EU integration is related to markets, and not exclusively to political goals. EU integration, and negotiations within chapters dealing with agriculture, food safety and rural development, must be a priority we need to enter high-quality markets

Conventional agriculture – whatever is implied by that – is indeed a chance, as Serbia has sufficient resources and competitive advantages in that segment of the economy. The current problem is that the products for which Serbia is known and which it, as a rule, exports the most – sugar, raspberries and apples – are in a serious market crisis, and therefore also a price crisis. When we add corn and wheat, which belong to this group of export products and which are marked by low prices, and which have extremely low prospects of prices rising in the foreseeable future, then it is clear that certain diversification of both production and exports is required. This requires cooperation between the Ministry and farmers, in order to create a framework that will enable this potential to be exploited, and here I primarily mean that everyone understands their role.

The ministry’s role is to open up markets, primarily high-quality ones, such as that of the EU, through the meeting of standards that would enable us to export beef, pork and chicken; and would ensure that our raspberries wouldn’t need to be additionally tested for viruses when exporting to the EU, or for us not to have to face dread when sending a shipment of peaches to the Russian Federation etc.

Everyone today sees the role of the ministry in providing subsidies, influencing the market and minimising its regulatory role, which is much more important

I think that many don’t understand – and here I’m referring to both policymakers and farmers – the extent to which EU integration is linked to markets, and not exclusively to political goals. Everyone today sees the role of the Ministry in providing subsidies, influencing the market and minimising its regulatory role, which is much more important. That’s why EU integration and negotiations under the auspices of the accession negotiation chapters – both those linked directly to agriculture, food safety and rural development, such as chapters 11 and 12, or those indirectly related to the economy and the rule of law – must be a priority and must be adopted without too many questions. The story which insists that we will strive to meet standards due to our own needs obviously isn’t working, nor are there prospects that it will ever function in Serbia.

When we agreed that EU integration and accession negotiations are important, and then decided that this is our priority, we entered the domain of institutional capacity, which is unfortunately extremely low and hinders, to a great extent, the fast and efficient adoption – and even more the implementation – of the laws that Serbian agriculture requires in order for it to be more efficient and for it to be provided with new market opportunities. This is particularly so now, in a period when our traditional production is in crisis.

Milan Prostran
Agricultural Economist

No Alternative for the Conventional Economy

As long as we can make it pay to produce our products, we shouldn’t rush to open the door to GMOs. Conventional agriculture is our key option, but it must be modernised

Conventional agriculture will remain in the top spot for a long time to come, as it is the only form that can secure large quantities of food for a world with a growing population (set to reach 10 billion people in a couple of decades). Conventional production implies modern technology, modern livestock breeds, modern varieties and hybrids of plant species in field crop, vegetable and fruit cultivation, and in viticulture. The risks of conventional agriculture are in the use of pesticides, which must be reduced to normal levels, but also with producers being well informed regarding consumers. Education must be constant.

I’m of the opinion that it is a great utopian idea that current organic food production could replace conventional farming

There is no existing alternative to conventional food production from the perspective of volume. Organic farming means returning to the period of the 1950s, with slightly adjusted technology in production, but it is still only in its infancy. In Serbia, Only 15,000 hectares of land in Serbia is used for organic production, when it comes to plans, while the organic production of milk in cattle breeding has also begun. I’m of the opinion that it is a great utopian idea that current organic food production could replace conventional farming. Conventional production is the dominant form of production and it will survive and exist as such in the world for a long time to come. As long as we can make it pay to produce such products, we don’t need to rush to open the door to GMOs. It will certainly come one day.

Miodrag Dimitrijević PhD.
Tendered Professor and Geneticist at the University of Novi Sad Faculty of Agriculture

We Don’t Have Quantity, But We Can Offer Quality

Serbia didn’t leave a valuable and respected trace on the U.S. Market with sales of Zastava cars, but rather with the small, high-value series of exclusive hand-knitted and artistically designed “Sirogojno” sweaters. This example also needs to be an indicator of the direction we need to take in the production of food

Conventional agriculture remains our chance on the world market. And I would say that, for now, it is our only chance on the world market. Serbia has about 3.9 million hectares of agricultural land, which is around 2.2% compared to the EU total. Of around 630,000 farms, 99.5% are family farmsteads, while about 92% are farming estates up to 10 hectares.

We can’t compete on the world market in terms of quantity, but we certainly can in terms of quality. Serbia didn’t leave a valuable and respected trace on the U.S. market with sales of Zastava cars, but rather with the small, high-value series of exclusive hand-knitted and artistically designed “Sirogojno” sweaters. This example also needs to be an indicator of the direction we need to take in the production of food. With a good legal foundation for truly cooperative clustering, including savings-credit cooperatives, the conditions would be created to exploit the structure of farms in Serbia to the maximum extent. This was the route taken by the Kingdom of Serbia when in 1895 it was one of the founders – along with Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Italy, Switzerland and the United States – of the International Co-operative Alliance. This is the route being taken successfully by Italy and Spain. Contemporary cooperation would lead to improved exploitation of our agricultural capacities. The significant representation of organic production, which is also a way of life, would create a healthier environment and would be – along with the road transport network – a good starting point for the balanced development of Serbia.

In order for this to happen, we need science and higher education in the field of agriculture to recover. We were, until around 20 years ago, a world force in agricultural science, technology and the production of varieties and hybrids. Our science and education need to be at a level that allows us to follow new achievements, but also to return and actively engage in world science flows. When it comes to agreements and “chapters” in EU accession negotiations, the fact is that we’ve been at fault in these multi-decade “negotiations”. Due to mistaken estimates, we “agreed” at the cost of our own agriculture and resource preservation. The power to satisfy food needs with one’s own strengths is the considered action of any serious country.

Food production independence is one of the foundations of any independence. The world population is expected to grow to exceed 10 billion over the next 20-30 years. Demand for food will increase dramatically, but so will the need to prevent further degradation of the natural environment. Those who produce food will have a significant advantage over those who need others to fill their plates. This is no longer just a question of freedom; it is a question of survival.

Can Serbia expect to export goods with higher added value, provided it more efficiently applies regulations and standards related to the environment?

Anđelka Mihajlov
Environmental Ambassador for Sustainable Development, Retired University Professor and Former Serbian Minister for the Protection of Natural Resources and the Environment

We Can Be Better and More Responsible

The answer is yes. The methods by which the environment is protected are represented by the application of standards and laws, but also the choice of an environmentally friendly “lifestyle” for each of us

Since 1991, Serbia has been protecting the environment since 1991 with the law on environmental protection, while the existing legislation has been harmonised with EU legislation to a significant extent. The country is also a member of the vast majority of important multilateral environmental and/or climate change agreements.

The state of environmental performance depends, among other things, on capacities (institutions, people, adequate knowledge) and the existence of adequate infrastructure (for waste, wastewater, drinking water etc.), but also on the extent to which other sectors (agriculture, energy, transport, spatial planning, tourism and all others) have fundamentally incorporated environmental protection issues and climate change into their own development. That is part of a system of equations with multiple parameters, which is today facing a challenge in Serbia of how that will be resolved, both now and in the future.

One of the sectors which – with the accepting of compliance with environmental standards – has a great impact on the state of environmental performance in the country is trade, and in particular international trade. If Serbia fully implemented all international agreements in the fields of environmental protection and climate change, which it has joined and ratified, the value of goods on the international market would be more favourable than is the case today.

Serbia is negotiating its accession to the EU; an agreement covering free trade was established in 2009. Trade within and with the EU is based, inter alia, on compliance with multilateral environmental and climate change agreements and effective enforcement of national environmental law, sustainable trade in natural resources, combatting illicit trade in threatened and endangered species of flora and fauna, and the promotion of corporate social responsibility practises and sustainable public procurement. Technical harmonisation exists within the EU market, which also includes environmental protection, and so this is also required of other countries with which it trades.

Prior to arrival in the EU, goods (including food) must also satisfy the EU’s environmental protection requirements. Other non-EU markets also change the conditions of trade significantly when it comes to meeting environmental standards. Serbia is also negotiating on its membership in the World Trade Organization, which it applied for in 2005. Sustainable development and the protection and preservation of the environment are fundamental goals of the WTO; The Doha Development Agenda includes specific negotiations on trade and the environment.

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