Record-breaking budget allocations for the agricultural sector will mark this year. Alongside its regular incentives, the Ministry is systemically supporting the development of this sector through further digitalisation, automating certain processes and encouraging young farmers to enter this sector, which needs revitalising with young people and to turn to more complex production stages
Agriculture has always been among the Serbian economy’s key sectors, and it has become increasingly clear since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine that food is a factor of security and the ability of the country to guarantee regular supplies and price stability under conditions of great turmoil on the global market. We discussed these topics with Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management Minister Jelena Tanasković.
What kind of place does agriculture occupy in this year’s budget?
I am proud of the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture has a record budget for this year, amounting to 80 billion dinars. The lion’s share of those resources are intended for improving production and increasing the stability of income for producers.
Total subsidies in agriculture, with all sources of financing, amount to 68.7 billion dinars, which represents 87% of the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management for 2023 and 35% of total subsidies of the Republic of Serbia.
Alongside direct payments, for which we’ve earmarked 46.9 billion dinars in 2023, a total of eight billion dinars has been set aside for rural development measures, 6.3 billion dinars for IPARD, and 2.2 billion dinars for the Competitive Agriculture of Serbia Project, which the Ministry is implementing together with the World Bank.
The introduction of the eAgrar system is certainly one of the priorities for this year, and it will serve to further accelerate the processing of requests, thereby creating conditions to ensure that all cases received throughout the year can be paid in the same year.
Providing sufficient amounts of food is among our most basic tasks, as is the case in all other countries in the situation that the world currently finds itself in. The State of Serbia has shown, even under extremely difficult circumstances, that it reacts quickly and effectively, and that it takes the right measures in moments of crisis.
Our citizens didn’t feel basic foodstuff scarcity or any other shortages – we didn’t have empty shelves, unlike some countries in the neighbourhood. And in future we will continue to react in accordance with the situation and continue providing additional and timely measures.
Incentives for young farmers have long since existed in the budget, which is particularly important given that the structure of our agriculture households includes a large number of elderly people. How popular are these subsidies for young people and in what other ways do you encourage young, educated people to enter this sector?
Young people are a category that we pay special attention to within the framework of national measures and the IPARD programme, and we have identified them specifically as being a crucial factor in the continued survival and development of Serbian agriculture. Thus, for example, young producers can take advantage of subsidised loans with an interest rate of just one per cent, and an average of a third of these loans are awarded precisely to them. They also have an advantage when it comes to the points system and ranking to receive incentives from the national budget, as well as when applying for the IPARD programme.
Under the scope of the IPARD II programme, young people could count on incentives 5% higher compared to all other categories (65% of total eligible investment costs) within the framework of Measure 1, which is intended for investments in constructing and equipping facilities and in procuring agricultural machinery and mechanisation for primary agriculture production.
The parameters for an eID number have so far been downloaded by more than 240,000 agricultural producers, and that number itself tells you that Serbian farmers are ready for the new era in agriculture, which will bring the most benefits primarily to them
In the next programme cycle, IPARD III, young people will be able to count on even more significant support amounting to as much as 70% of their total costs, and this will also be extended to Measure 7, intended for rural tourism.
They also have funds at their disposal within the framework of the Competitive Agriculture of Serbia Project, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government of Serbia in cooperation with the World Bank.
How much has the IPARD programme contributed to improving and modernising the agricultural sector?
The IPARD programme’s contribution is best reflected in the number of paid beneficiaries of IPARD support. From the start of IPARD II programme implementation until the end of 2022, 645 beneficiaries received IPARD support and implemented their investments successfully.
Through Measure 1, as many as 582 beneficiaries modernised their production processes in the domain of primary agricultural production thanks to supported investments totalling 33.1 million euros. In the area of agricultural product processing, 63 beneficiaries modernised their production through Measure 3, with the value of supported investments totalling 14.2 million euros.
Among the most strongly represented sectors within the scope of primary agriculture are the ‘other crops’ sector, followed by the ‘fruits and vegetables’ sector, which is the most strongly represented when it comes to processing agricultural products.
Investments worth 27.5 million euros of public support in the procurement of machinery, equipment and mechanisation were realised by 561 beneficiaries within the scope of primary agriculture. The dominant investment type within the framework of Measure 1 relates to the procurement of new tractors, in which 406 beneficiaries purchased new tractors with a total combined value of 14.1 million euros of public support.
Are we utilising all the opportunities IPARD offers or is there a need here for farmers to receive additional education?
We definitely aren’t sufficiently utilising the opportunities we’re provided by this programme and I consider that we could use these funds much more, and more efficiently.
The IPARD programme offers a wide range of opportunities through accredited measures and, in this regard, it is essential to educate potential beneficiaries of IPARD support in order for us to take full advantage of the funds intended to help our country achieve European Union standards in agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management organises informative workshops and education intended for potential users of IPARD support, as well as consultants and advisory services, thereby raising awareness among all interested parties regarding the possibilities of financing through the IPARD programme. Moreover, promotional activities for the IPARD programme are also conducted continuously via social media.
Agricultural advisory services (PSSS) represent an important partner in activities linked to the IPARD programme, which is reflected primarily through its direct work with potential IPARD beneficiaries. It is for this reason that educational workshops for advisors, covering all accredited measures of the IPARD programme, are held each year.
In the period ahead, each PSSS will hire an economist in order for us to bring IPARD even closer to agricultural producers and provide them with support in applying for funds.
The Ministry has a strategic orientation towards increasing exports of high-quality food products with added value. How much are these kinds of products included in the existing structure of agricultural product exports and what measures are you implementing to increase their participation?
Organic production is oriented towards export and last year achieved a record export value of 68.5 million euros. During the last year we exported organic products mostly to Germany, the U.S., the Netherlands, Austria etc.
Since 2013, which saw the adoption of the Law on Incentives in Agriculture and Rural Development, there has been a growth trend in terms of the budget intended to support organic production through incentives for organic plant production and organic livestock production per head of livestock.
The 2022 budget for organic production amounted to 577.7 million dinars, which was more than double the budget for 2021.
When it comes to wines with indications of protected geographical origin, the Ministry of Agriculture implements an array of measures aimed at increasing their participation in total wine production.
According to data from the Winery Register, the production of wines with protected geographical origin was up 19.6% in 2021 compared to the previous year, while it was 9.6% higher compared to the last five-year average.
I don’t consider all of this to be enough and believe that we can offer and export much more. Here I’m referring primarily to the fruit and vegetable production sector, but also the processing of fruits and vegetables. We mainly export raw materials, with processed products exported less, and we must work on this seriously, which is why it will be in our focus during the following period.
eAgrar is undoubtedly among the most promising new additions. What should it bring to farmers specifically? How prepared are they for this transition to digital solutions, in terms of digital literacy?
Thanks to eAgrar, our farmers will be able to monitor the status of their operations online at any time and complete administrative tasks from home, from their farmstead, while they will also be able to quickly spot anything irregular and intervene immediately.
This new system will bring multiple advantages, such as the faster processing of requests and shorter waiting times for payments – to be forthcoming in the year in which requests are submitted.
The parameters for an eID number have so far been downloaded by more than 240,000 agricultural producers, and that number itself tells you that Serbian farmers are ready for the new era in agriculture, which will bring the most benefits primarily to them.
Registrations in the agricultural holdings electronic register (eRPG) began on 20th March and mark the next step in the introduction of the eAgrar system, which will start operating in early April. Over 8,000 farms were registered on the first day alone
Registrations in the agricultural holdings electronic register (eRPG) began on 20th March and mark the next step in the introduction of the eAgrar system, which will start operating in early April. Over 8,000 farms were registered on the first day alone.
Although we are satisfied with the response of farmers of all generations, we have certainly provided them with additional support from the agricultural advisory services that cover the entire territory of Serbia. Our PSSS advisors are always available to them, and we will likewise organise field visits for the oldest farmers and those who are unable to come to PSSS for some reason, practically “bringing” eAgrar to their doorstep.
Farmers can also access all information free of charge by calling 0800-106-107.
You’ve announced the preparation of the new Law on Wine and other products made from grapes and wine, as well as the harmonisation of our legislation with that of the EU. What new additions should we expect?
The basic goals that we want to achieve with the new law are: harmonisation with current valid EU regulations and requirements in this area; enabling private individuals to engage in wine production under certain conditions, as well as those not registered in the Business Registers Agency (colleges, schools, monasteries etc.), thereby enabling their inclusion in legal production and control processes; protecting producers of domestic grapes by banning the production of wine from raw materials sourced from other countries; introducing viticultural climate zones and winery records aligned with EU requirements; introducing a system of supplementary documents that accompany shipments of wine in accordance with EU procedures; and facilitating and improving the production of wines with protected geographical origin in accordance with EU regulations.
We are increasingly seeing capital shifting to agriculture, especially when it comes to vineyards, organic production and other agriculture sub-sectors. What kind of quality do these investments bring when it comes to the applying of new agrotechnical measures and innovations?
Viticulture and winemaking are very important economically in many countries. Taking into consideration the fact that large investments are needed to construct vineyards and wine cellars, procure equipment etc., it is essential to also have the proper application of new agrotechnical measures and knowledge in cultivating grapes and producing wine, with the aim of producing a product that will be competitive on the market. The new influx of capital in the domain of viticulture and winemaking contributes to raising production standards and wine quality.
Considering the rapid growth of the organic food market, organic production will play a significant future role in the overall development of agriculture and the food industry in Serbia.
It is for these reasons that the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Serbia monitors trends and tries to include all new technologies in our regulations in a timely manner. We also cooperate with and provide support to our scientific institutions in this area, such as the Biosense Institute, which is among the smart agriculture pioneers in Serbia, while we are also working in a big way on the automation of anti-hail stations, which also represents a new and precise form of crop protection technology.
One other extremely important aspect of innovative solutions in agriculture is that they stand out in particular when it comes to their contributions to reducing negative environmental impacts. Moreover, smart agriculture can help when it comes to improving the overall quality and safety of the food we eat.
The process of digitalising administrative processes can also ultimately be included under smart agriculture. As you all already know, the Ministry is working intensively on the introduction of the eAgrar system, which will start operating this spring.
This system will contribute to saving time and resources, while it will also speed up the processing and paying of subsidies.
Young people are a category that we pay special attention to within the framework of national measures and the IPARD programme, and we have identified them as a crucial factor in the continued development of Serbian agriculture
We can offer and export much more in the fruit and vegetable production sector, and in the processing of fruits and vegetables. We must export more processed products and that will be in our focus during the following period
The Ministry implements numerous measures that can be included under “smart agriculture”, from the encouraging of scientific development to the digitalising of administrative processes