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Challenges and opportunities for the fresh fruit & vegetable industry in time of crisis

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On Tuesday, 14 April 2020, USAID Competitive Economy Project, under the “Svet hoće domaće” (SHD) initiative organised the third live webinar panel to inform food producers on key issues and ways to better cope with the COVID-19 pandemic

The panel, titled “The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Industry: Obstacles and Opportunities in a time of crisis”, addressed the current situation in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, its impact on export, the situation in retail and how producers and exporters are adapting, as well as how the market will look after the crisis and the opportunities for domestic producers.

Key panellists were Branislav Raketić, Head of Group for Food Quality and Food Labelling at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of the Republic of Serbia; Aleksandar Pavlović, Chief of Party, USAID Competitive Economy Project; Igor Milenković, Director, Fruit & Vegetables at Delta Agrar; and Ana Bošnjak, owner of Agro Bel System.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has been working intensively to address all obstacles so that producers can continue to work unabated. This includes the improvement of the process of issuing free movement permits and support measures to older farmers. We also have high expectations from the Electronic Market of Serbia, which commenced its operation a few days ago and which is to significantly improve product placement in this challenging situation,” said Mr. Raketić.

Panel participants agreed that the production process has been retained at high levels; the demand is there. The focus is on the realisation of all previously contracted deals, but that the main issues are increased costs associated with the implementation of necessary measures across the supply chain, transportation and limited movement of workers. In addition, there are losses in the market due to the closure of the foodservice industry and open markets. At the same time, the retailers had to adjust their operations due to shorter working hours and a reduced number of customers in stores. The main challenges in export are high uncertainty in terms of delivery and time required for documentation checks. Some of the opportunities are sales at the domestic and regional markets, as well as exports to countries that are importers of products from Spain, Italy and other countries significantly affected by the virus.

The SHD initiative, launched in September 2018, serves as an important place for the promotion and education of domestic specialty food producers. During this fast-evolving situation, the USAID Competitive Economy Project, through SHD’s webinar series, will continue to serve the needs of the local food industry addressing all key issues and helping producers manage through the current situation easier.