FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Croatia’s fruit and vegetable producers may get a bigger slice of market

Croatia imports more than half of its fruit and vegetables, though it has a good potential for horticultural production.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Croatian Ministry of Agriculture are working together to address the country’s production-consumption gap, as well as a lack of cooperation among producers, local food-processing companies and retailers.

Sector challenges

Croatia’s horticultural sector is beset by challenges including lack of know-how in modern production techniques, and fragmentation of production.

Fruit and vegetable value chains rely largely on the country’s small-scale producers, but many of those producers lack the financing to upgrade their operations and struggle to supply processors and retailers with a reliable flow of high-quality produce. Producers are generally left to market their goods by themselves, without much leverage to negotiate a good price.

As part of the effort, Wageningen University will also cooperate with the Croatian Young Farmers Association to identify market opportunities and success factors for high-potential fruit and vegetables. This will be based on an assessment of the fruit and vegetable market in Croatia conducted by the University.

The joint efforts of EBRD, FAO and Wageningen University are expected to help producers integrate into the modern distribution system and gain access to a wider market.

“The agribusiness sector is very important for the country,” said Victoria Zinchuk, Head of Agribusiness Advisory with EBRD. “We are happy to be supporting it through the EBRD’s agribusiness advisory services in order to provide opportunities for local farmers to tap into higher value-added products and export markets.”

Learning from Italian counterparts

Croatian producers – together with colleagues from the Ministry of Agriculture – will visit Italy on a study tour. There they will see first-hand how agricultural cooperatives are organized, why they are so important in Italy’s horticultural sector, and how they benefit their members.

“Strong cooperatives are a good option to establish commercial links with retailers and to access markets,” said Cristiana Sparacino, FAO Economist and the project’s team leader. “I really believe in learning from peers, especially from people who have faced similar challenges. The coop movement in Italy has been around since the 1800s and the country’s agriculture sector is very strong.”

Part of the visit will be an encounter with LegaCoop, Italy’s oldest cooperative organization with more than 15,000 member cooperatives.

“Cooperation among farmers is a crucial step in developing a more robust, competitive and profitable horticultural sector, so we find it very positive and useful to exchange experiences, knowledge and data with Italian counterparts,” said Agriculture Minister Tomislav Tolusic. Jan Marinac, President of the Croatian Association of Young Farmers, added that in today’s world “cooperatives are the only way to go.”

Sharing knowledge

FAO and the EBRD, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Croatian Young Farmers Association, will organize a horticultural forum, bringing together public and private-sector players from Croatia and Italy to elaborate on the findings of the study tour.

Discussions will focus on how to strengthen Croatia’s horticultural sector – from creating farmers’ cooperatives to increasing market penetration and bargaining power, improving farmers’ access to credit, and taking advantage of the latest agricultural innovations. The findings of the study by Wageningen University will support discussions and potential solutions.

“Using cutting-edge methods to produce high-quality fruits and vegetables and improving productivity and efficiency up and down the horticultural value chain will open up more market opportunities for Croatian producers, both at home and abroad,” said Vedrana Jelusic Kasic, EBRD’s Director for Croatia.

Since 1995, the EBRD has invested more than EUR 620 million in Croatia’s agribusiness sector. More recently, FAO and the EBRD supported Croatia in developing and registering the country’s first two Geographical Indications at European Union level, including one for mandarins from the Neretva region.

16 March 2017, Budapest, Hungary