Organic agricultural production is becoming very common in Serbia

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Organic agricultural production in Serbia is more and more represented and there is a growing interest of producers to start it, which is evidenced by the increase in their number and area under this type of production, advises the Minister of Agriculture for Organic Production and member of “Serbia Organica”, Ivana Simic.

“Currently, about 21,000 hectares are under this production and there are close to 7,000 producers. In recent years, there has been a good trend of growing areas, the number of producers, but also the export of this food,” Simic said. She states that there are several factors that influence this trend, and one of them is the incentives provided by the ministry.

“Incentives have been getting better in the past few years. Also, the trend in the world, and in Serbia, is that consumers are increasingly concerned about a healthy diet, and the pandemic has encouraged that even more. Also, organic production is extremely socio-economic because it is a great factor in preserving rural areas and is ideal for countries like Serbia, which have small farms with an average of about five hectares, and such producers are less and less competitive without products that add value,” Simic explains.

He points out that there are many areas suitable for organic production in the hilly and mountainous areas of southern and southeastern Serbia, and partly in the western and central parts of the country.

“I must add that seven percent of the surface of Serbia consists of protected areas, which are ideal for this type of production. The advantage of such rural areas where there has been no production for years is that they can quickly get organic status,” Simic explained.

She presented data that now only 0.6 percent of agricultural land is under organic production, and emphasized that the task of the ministry is to increase those areas to two to three percent of the total arable land in the next five years.

For that purpose, the advisor to the minister added, this year the decree allocated around 2.1 million euros for organic production, and next year those funds will be increased by more than 60 percent to 3.2 million euros.

“An organic producer can receive an incentive of 220 euros per hectare, and those who are in the process of conversion and acquiring the status of organic producers can also count on that amount,” Simić emphasized.

She says that Serbia is best known as a producer and exporter of organic fruit, but that vegetables are increasingly in demand.

“Coronavirus has changed people’s habits, so they are increasingly looking for organic vegetables and the export of frozen vegetables, but so far there are small areas under vegetables and all this is absorbed by the domestic market,” said Simić.

She emphasizes that the domestic and foreign markets are looking for spices and medicinal herbs, and that in recent years there has been a trend of development of organic livestock.

Organic cattle breeders receive incentives 40 percent higher than conventional livestock. The state reimburses half of the conversion costs to producers who are in the process of conversion, and if they are from areas with difficult work in agriculture, they receive 65 percent of the aid,” said Simić.

She noticed that in the last few years, more and more people from the cities go to the countryside and engage in agriculture, even organic farming.

“From the conversations with these people, we get the impression that they are very satisfied and that it has generally improved their quality of life. They mostly supply the inhabitants of the cities by bringing food to their home address,” Simic said.

One of such examples is “Eco household of Dr. Cupic” from Sopot on Kosmaj, which was visited by the Tanjug team.

Ana Cupic is a doctor of medicine, nutrition specialist, her husband Aleksandar is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Transportation in Belgrade, and in 2012 they bought a rural household in Kosmaj, where they moved from Belgrade and now live there with five children.

In addition to their basic jobs, Cupic family grows organic fruits and vegetables outdoors and in several large greenhouses, and they have plans to expand their business to rural tourism.

“In the beginning, we produced food for our own needs, but over time, our gardens grew and surpluses appeared, which we processed in the winter. Friends came to us who liked it, and in 2018 we became certified organic producers,” says Cupic.

She reveals that the family still does not live from organic production, but she and her husband invest in the production of healthy food from their salaries.

“But it is good that this production is growing every year and that we see that one family can partially live from it and talk more and more about healthy eating and lifestyle, so I think there is a future in organic food production,” she said.

She warns that beginners in this business can hardly survive without financial investments from other sources, because serious production requires serious funds, a lot of work and knowledge.

At the end of the year, at the suggestion of the Ministry of Agriculture, Cupic family received four thousand euros in non-refundable funds in the competition of NLB Bank, which it announces every year for organic producers.

“We got the money for the project of building a warehouse and a shop, because we noticed that more and more people come to the property to buy our products. Given that we have serious production capacities, we will focus little on sales, marketing and rural tourism,” announced Cupic.

She explained that the farm has a forest and a pond where visitors can relax, drink some healthy homemade juice or eat a salad made from fresh vegetables from the farm.

“Since I am a nutrition specialist, I could balance meals nicely, so that we can complete our production. We are trying to make this a story that would be acceptable to people, that would help and inspire that maybe they are the same,” emphasizes Cupic.

Cupic points out that they sell customers exclusively the food they and their children eat.

Apart from fresh vegetables, these are different types of winter vegetables prepared according to the recipe from Prokuplje, their homeland, which guarantees that it is delicious food.

“My husband’s sister is a food technologist, so these are controlled recipes, without preservatives, and we try not to add sugar to everything that doesn’t have to be added, but use healthier and more acceptable sweeteners,” said Cupic, RTV reports.