The country is mountainous along its east, south and west borders, surrounding a waste plain in the north and northeast part, belonging to the Pannonian Plain. The climate is temperate and varies from Mediterranean in the south (Montenegro) to continental and steppic in the middle part of the country and the northern plain of Vojvodina.
Yugoslavia has an area of 102 173 km2, with 6 246 000 ha of agricultural land, out of which 3 321 000 ha is arable land, used for cereals (66.6%), industrial crops (13.5), vegetables (12.5%), fodder crops (20.0%), horticulture (0.05%), and fallow (uncultivated land) 3.9%. Maize is the most important cereal, followed by winter wheat. Other important crops are alfalfa, sunflower, potato, barley, sugar beet, soybean, etc.
Agriculture is a very significant branch of the economy, contributing about 19% to the Gross National Product. About 56% of the population lives in the countryside, and the farming population amounts to 16%. The main part of agricultural production is of private sector origin, since 74.3% of the land belongs to farmers, 17% to state farms and 2.7% to the cooperatives. Privately owned farms are characterized by smallholdings (40% have less than 2 ha, and only 20% have more than 5 ha). The average size of plots is between 0.2 and 0.9 ha.
Plant breeding and variety improvement in Yugoslavia is based on improvement of local populations in combination with introduced germplasm. Plant breeding and seed production have a long tradition in Yugoslavia. There are 13 scientific-research institutions dealing with plant breeding and all belonging to the public sector. More than 1 000 improved varieties of different species have been released and made available to farmers. In the period 1990-95, more than 400 varieties were released, including winter wheat (126 varieties), maize (115, mainly hybrid varieties), barley (22), sunflower (5), sugar beet (20), soybean (26), fodder crops (10), and vegetables (34).
Seed production and trade was a very important source of foreign currency. More than 100 000 t of maize hybrid seed was exported annually before the disintegration of the Soviet Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, mostly to the former Soviet Union. After 1991 and the disintegration of both Yugoslavia and the SU, this trade was significantly reduced. Each plant breeding institute belongs to an association for the production, processing and trade of seed, consisting of a research institute (breeder and owner of a variety), agricultural company (seed producer), seed processor, and trading company.
New varieties are tested and released by the state commission for variety release. Seed testing is made by ISTA-accredited laboratories. Yugoslavia is not a member of OECD schemes for variety certification, nor has it signed the UPOV convention, for political reasons. With the recent change of regime, this may be possible. Yugoslavia has signed the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Plant Genetic Resources
Yugoslavia joined COMECON as an observer and has never been an active participant in the activities of the STC. In the sphere of PGR, emphasis was on bilateral cooperation on the basis of agreements between the involved institutes and breeding centres in the USSR. For instance, an agreement on cooperation and germplasm exchange was signed with VIR. In this framework, Yugoslav breeders received accessions for breeding purposes and created working collections of their own. The establishment of a genebank in Yugoslavia, with financial support through an FAO project, had been scheduled for 1992. An Expert Council was set up as a coordinating body and to prepare a national programme for PGR. Meanwhile, the Committee for Agriculture was formed within the Federal Government to work on the development of the programme and its funding.
The main institutes that the national programme were based on were the following ones: the Institute of Maize in Zemun Polje (maize, sorghum, millet); the Institute in Novi Sad (wheat, maize, sunflower); the Institute of Vegetable Growing in Smederevska Palanka; and the Research Institute of Horticulture in Cacak. Also, departments of several agricultural teaching institutions were planned to be part of the national programme. However, ethnic controversies, wide-scale armed conflicts in the country and its consequent splitting into independent states disrupted these plans. By 1998, the total ex situ collection in Yugoslavia was 60 000 accessions of cereals, vegetables, fruits, forages, etc. Seven institutes were engaged in their study and evaluation. The base collection of over 35 000 accessions was located at the Institute of Maize (Zemun Polje) and stored in special chambers at +4°C. The work on database creation was carried out using lists of descriptors developed by IPGRI. Realization of the necessity of conserving PGR diversity and coordinating these activities at the national level lead to the establishment of the Institute of Plant and Animal Genetic Resources. At present, there is an urgent need to restore PGR collections, develop facilities for PGR studies and conservation, and to improve coordination within the country.