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Future of Croatian horticulture is focus of Zagreb forum

Croatia imports a large part of the fruits and vegetables it consumes. Yet, with a rich national tradition of fruit and vegetable production – and optimal climate and soil conditions for it – the country has real potential to produce more. It could meet the demand for high-quality produce at home, while also accessing export markets.

A targeted audience of representatives from Croatia’s government, producer organizations, processors, wholesalers and retailers attended a high-level forum here today, to discuss how best to unlock that potential.

The event was organized by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), along with Croatia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Croatia’s Chamber of Commerce, and the Croatian Association of Young Farmers.

Marija Vučković, State Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture, opened the forum and underscored the importance of developing dialogue with the public and private sectors as a way to “identify and tackle the bottlenecks holding back development and build consensus on how to make the Croatian horticulture sector stronger, more competitive and profitable.”

Forum participants went on to share lessons from a study tour to Italy earlier this year, organized by the EBRD and FAO. They also discussed the preliminary findings of an analysis by Wageningen University and Research Centre on business opportunities for Croatian fruit and vegetable producers. Researchers conducted extensive interviews with actors in the fruit and vegetable sector – including processing, distribution, wholesale and retail – and analyzed available data. Their work highlights opportunities to improve supply chains and links between suppliers and buyers.

Stronger producer organizations

Most of Croatia’s fruit and vegetable producers are small-scale farmers. Many are unfamiliar with modern production techniques, or lack the means to upgrade their operations, invest in research, and influence markets. This means production is fragmented, and cooperation is weak among producers, processors, and retailers.

The study tour to Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna regions shed light on the benefits of well-functioning agricultural cooperatives, with greater efficiency up and down the supply chain. It offered a glimpse into practices that can be replicated in Croatia’s horticulture sector.

In particular, participants saw how different production techniques – including “precision horticulture” – can enhance the quality and taste of products. Practical demonstrations covered food safety and quality controls, and environmentally-friendly production methods such as Integrated Pest Management.

In organising the study tour, the EBRD and FAO worked closely with LegaCoop, Italy’s oldest cooperative organization which counts more than 15,000 member cooperatives. Italian agricultural cooperatives – going strong for more than 100 years – help producers access inputs, the latest technologies and knowledge, financing, and new markets in Italy and abroad.

“It’s clear that you can accomplish so much more by working together than you can on your own,” said Jan Marinac, President of the Association of Young Farmers. “We need continued support to bring our horticulture sector up to speed with the latest developments, including food safety and quality controls, and to better organize our farmers, whether in cooperatives, associations or producer groups.”

Vedrana Jelušić Kašić, EBRD Director for Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia, emphasised the need to form co-operatives and producer organisations to help "achieve economies of scale in sales as well as in accessing modern technology and sharing knowledge. In this sense, it is necessary to empower these organisations in order for them to achieve market success.”

Andriy Yarmak, an FAO economist, explained that better coordination and organization along the supply chain benefits everyone.

“Croatian producers will have more predictable buyers, retailers and processing companies will be able to source local produce more efficiently, and consumers will have better access to good quality produce from the country,” he said.

The driving force of tourism

The forum also touched on the potential of tourism as a driving force for Croatian food and agricultural products. Croatia attracts throngs of tourists each year, especially along its Adriatic Coast, and the horticulture sector has the opportunity to build on this unique characteristic by linking tourism to agriculture through the promotion of its products.

“The growth of tourism in Croatia could provide some interesting opportunities for local fruit and vegetable producers,” said Vedrana Jelušić Kašić. “Tourists are drawn to traditional foods and good quality products unique to an area, which can be a huge boost for rural economies and help smaller producers enter into new markets.”

These activities were part of an EBRD/FAO project to strengthen the capacity of the Association of Young Farmers to foster innovation, investment and growth in the horticulture sector, which also contributes to efficient and inclusive agrifood systems.

This project continues longstanding collaboration between FAO and the EBRD. Since 1995, the EBRD has invested more than EUR 620 million in Croatia’s agribusiness sector. More recently, the two organizations supported the development and registration of Croatia’s first two Geographic Indications at European Union level, including one for mandarins from the Neretva Valley and sausage from Slavonia.

8 November 2017, Zagreb, Croatia

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