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  كرواتيا

Croatian agriculture has come a long way, emerging from the closed system and market of the former Yugoslavia to become integrated into the common market system of the European Union (EU). During this time there have been a lot of changes in Croatian agriculture. Today there are between 180,000 and 200,000 family farms from which, depending on the year, around 95,000 are under the subsidies system. In terms of land ownership, Croatian agriculture and rural areas are still characterized by many small plots with an average of 5.7 hectares per farm. This is still not enough for competitive agricultural production. The process of coming out of the previous socialist system and into the market economy has brought many problems to Croatian producers, and agricultural policy did not encourage the expansion. The most important reason for that was that the Government is the biggest owner of agricultural land, with other small, private parcels of land divided between many owners.

المزيد

Croatia joining the World Trade Organization and the EU Single Payment Scheme has resulted in some processes being introduced, but these are still not enough to ensure competitive and developed family farms. On the other hand, for some agriculture producers the idea of joining cooperatives still holds negative associations with the socialist period and a ‘must join’ attitude. Efforts to encouraging the consolidation of agricultural land as the basis for competitive production began a few years ago, and the Government has tried to change limiting factors through legislative solutions over the past two years.

The Law on Agricultural Land and the Law on Land Management will accelerate consolidation, especially for livestock breeding, a sector which is in an unenviable position in Europe. The Ministry of Agriculture has prepared these two laws, which have passed extensive public discussion and  gained the support of farmers who believe that these two parallel processes could start a new trend of consolidation. For example, in Croatia there are still family farms that cultivate the land on 20-30 different pitches, often 30-40 kilometers apart. Imagine how much hard work that takes, and how much is lost to the competition. Farmers’ interest in land is huge, but for many farmers the earth is a necessary evil. A large number of farmers are now forced to buy food for their cattle. They cannot become more profitable, while on the other hand changing the incentive system in the EU means losing those privileges that they had – the special support and additional national benefits for the maintenance and survival of this important agricultural sector.

Ministry of Agriculture analysis found that about 100,000 hectares of land needs to be assigned to livestock production by mid-2015, while it is still possible to sign a new right to payment for farmers under the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies system. Because of this, the Agency for Agricultural Land is working to intensify tendering procedures and simplify applications so the job can be completed within the set deadline. Croatian farmers pin their hopes to the ordered system of the CAP, which should help them to stimulate investment cycles in rural areas, primarily through Pillar 2 – rural development.

As an EU member state, Croatia has at its disposal €423 million a year for the first system of direct aid, and about €300 million for the second pillar, rural development. During the summer, the Ministry of Agriculture has prepared a Croatian model of support that is compliant with CAP rules. Through this, Croatia aims to maximize protection of sensitive sectors such as livestock and fruit and vegetable production. There is huge potential for the development of fruit and vegetable growing and for stimulating the transfer to manufacturers for chopped cereal production for the cost-effective production of fruit and vegetables. In addition, there is enormous potential for growth in exports, as well as in tourist spending, since in recent years Croatia has achieved tremendous growth in tourism and is becoming one of the most sought after tourist destinations. In addition to the first pillar of the CAP, Croatia has high hopes for rural development.

By the end of 2014, Croatia should get the ‘green light’ for the €323 million Programme of Rural Development. This programme will encourage projects in rural areas, with an emphasis on young farmers. Official records say that over 50 per cent of all agricultural land in Croatia is owned by elderly family members (over 60 years old). This is a limiting factor to the faster growth of agriculture. Low levels of education and an elderly model of farm business conduct necessitates a fast transfer of ownership and the stimulation of young educated farmers to take a modern approach to farm management. During the International Year of Family Farming, the Ministry of Agriculture is working with the Croatian Association of Young Farmers to organize a series of events that show that Croatia has is a huge number of young, educated farmers willing to change and rapidly adapt to global trends.

Young Croatian farmers want to encourage farmers’ education in the countryside, and by the end of the year they plan to encourage education in regional centres to help as many young people as possible join their organization and forge links with producer organizations and  cooperatives. During one of these events, the Croatian Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture visited several young farmers’ farms, and spent the whole day with them to get important information about what they want and where they see Croatian agriculture in the future. Young farmers are linked with their counterparts from other EU countries and are preparing projects for rural development. They monitor everything that happens on the global market and expect the state to start the important process of transfer of ownership of family farms from the old to the younger generation. They have great expectations of the EU to encourage this process, and they think it important that the banking sector strongly encourages young people to enter into this business with favourable credit arrangements. With the strength of the young and support from the EU budget, in the next decade Croatia could become a good example of how agriculture progresses when the young take the lead. Apart from this reform policy, the other way forward is to join together. Former models of agricultural product sales on the Croatian market and in export have shown that small producers cannot sell their products independently. Big retail chains dominate the market which is not ready to repurchase small quantities of products. It has been noticed that in a farm-to-table chain, the integral part which links producers with retailers – cooperatives, clusters and product organizations – is missing.

As mentioned above, Croatian farmers still have negative connotations from the past with these associations, as they were once forced to join. Today’s global movement is compelling them to change their way of thinking and the establishment of numerous cooperatives and producer groups is expected soon, especially in the fruit and vegetable sector and in the production of authentic Croatian products. The CAP encourages more fruit and vegetables, but it is a prerequisite that the producers are affiliated. For this reason Croatia, during the summer, launched an awareness campaign to encourage the process of association to be put in place as soon as possible.

Today, Croatia is a part of the European community and offers a variety of authentic products – perhaps not yet recognized on a wider European market but with big potential through tourism – as one of the major sectors of the country’s economy. Every tourist who visits Croatia will enjoy village farm products such as vines, olive oil, mandarins and Slavonian kulen. It is hoped that most of the food produced in Croatia can sell itself through tourism. In that way, Croatia can become recognized throughout the world and reach out to the consumers outside its borders.

Over the past 10 years, Croatia has invested a lot of money in wine and grape production, and now there are recognizable Croatian wines on the world wine industry map. The combination of wine, food and tourism is something that becomes a Croatian brand. The enormous growth of tourism and the fact that Croatia has become one of the top tourist destinations confirms that the sector still has room for growth and development. Wine roads, fine wine cellars, restaurants and beautiful scenery have become the subject of numerous international travel magazines, and many television companies that have visited these places in Croatia have been amazed by the blend of flavours, fragrances and beauty. Through tourism, Croatian food becomes recognizable. Visitors in Istria or Dalmatia are always impressed by the taste and quality of olive oil, for example, or of cheese produced from the milk of cows and from goats walking freely on the islands.

Croatia has no shortage of beautiful and important. Food-producing areas, such as the region of Slavonia which has won visitors over with its sausages and other delicacies. Croatia already has 16 nationally protected local products, all of which have been submitted for protection in the EU. This list of products is expected to expand each year, with the producing areas becoming recognizable culinary destinations through tourism and the involvement of young people in agriculture.

Croatia’s fisheries sector should certainly be added to this list. It is one of the most important fisheries sectors in the Mediterranean. It can be seen through its tuna exports to Japan that Croatian fishermen are connoisseurs of their craft, representing the country with the best of gastronomic products. A large part of the food produced in Croatia is sold through tourism, and in this manner Croatian products have the best marketing so they become recognizable  worldwide. Croatia is a small country that does not have the ambition or the potential to become a mass producer of food, and the global market is struggling with large countries. It is a strategic objective of Croatia to be recognized as a specialist in the production of products which Europe and the world increasingly demand, and as a producer of distinctive flavors, aromas and quality. While it is impossible to achieve volume production for huge export, it is a known fact that

Croatia has one of the biggest food companies in this part of Europe, which is increasingly exported. Croatian farmers – family farms – are increasingly tied to its manufacturing industry, to encourage the production of value-added products that bring more money and a better life. Today is safe to say that Croatia, through its different regions of Slavonia and Baranja, through the Mura region, Lika and Gorski Kotar, Istria and Dalmatia, has a huge number of different products that are becoming increasingly specialized and profitable.

Although Croatian family farms are still small, they have a power that can be recognized. This has been shown during the celebration of the International Year of Family Farming, in the country’s project to select the best family farm. This award was called ‘Gold worthy’, because food is gold and it is produced by worthy people. It is hoped that this award will become a Croatian Agro Grammy or Oscar. The project was launched in collaboration with the biggest media house in the country and more than 100 family farms. Some 21 stories about nominated farms – one in each Croatian county – were published during August in the highest circulation daily newspaper. Media interest in these stories was huge, showing that Croatia has something to be proud of and that Croatian citizens have reason to believe in their food producers and in buying directly from their farms/estates and small stores. In its own way, the award produced a new image of Croatian agriculture and small producers who, through their stories, told of a job that is difficult, lasts all year and affords no rest, but that is done by hardworking people who enjoy what they do and, thanks to their energy and enthusiasm, can maintain life in the countryside.

It would be good to see this selection spread to other countries of the EU to show the beautiful life stories of small farmers. Small farmers do not have huge budgets for advertising and marketing, but they have the toughness and heart to produce high-quality products, to struggle courageously with global trends and believe that life in the countryside is something worthwhile that ultimately provides a quality of life far better than in the big cities. Croatia is proud to mark the International Year of Family Farming by showing the best of Croatian rural life, and to promote and support its small producers at all times.

 

This text is kindly provided by the authorities of this country

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