Инвестиционный центр ФАО

Modernizing food safety while preserving traditions in Serbia

FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development help update food safety measures for smallholders’ traditional culinary products

Miloš Pajić follows a recipe over 250 years old to make the local spicy smoked sausages for which the village of Backi Petrovac in northern Serbia's Vojvodina region is renowned. He also follows the new food safety regulations, drawn up by the government with the support of FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), aimed at bringing time-hallowed gastronomy up to date with modern food safety knowhow and bolstering the competitiveness of the country's small-scale producers.

It's not worth cutting corners, Miloš explains. "Maybe it would be easier to do things differently, but this way, I can sleep peacefully."

In this village and many others like it, the ancient culinary traditions of the land are a source of pride and income for the residents, with Serbia's rich food heritage being passed down from one generation to the next. "I'm working with my children to keep them up to date on safety and hygiene measures at all stages, from the raw material to the finished product," says Miloš.

It's not just meat products that are subject to the new rules. They're also being applied to thousands of small family-run businesses across the country whether they make jam, juices, dried fruits, pickled cabbage or ajvar (a traditional red pepper paste).

Back to traditions

Some three years ago, Stevan Petrović left his career as a lawyer and decided to come back to the family business of ajvar production. Ajvar, a gastronomic favourite in the Balkan region, is particularly popular in southern Serbia, and the region of Leskovac is home to an ajvar that has the status of a Protected Designation of Origin product.

He says it wasn't easy to convince his parents that he had chosen the right path, but now that his production is increasing and his marketing efforts have reached many parts of Serbia, his mother and father are fully on board with helping him to expand further.

"It is hard to be a food producer, but it is something much more rewarding for the times we live in to provide our customers with a healthy, safe and regulation-compliant product," states Stevan.

Suited to small-scale entrepreneurs

Fundamental and customized for such small family businesses, the FAO-EBRD-supported food safety measures allow the diversity of high-quality food products, cultural heritage and smallholder livelihoods to be preserved while ensuring that safety and hygiene standards are met.

"Our EBRD and FAO partnership supported the Serbian Government in these efforts to improve the country's meat, dairy and plant-based food production and small-scale processing industries while ensuring that smaller operators have a chance to stay in business and be competitive," says Nemanja Grgić, Principal Manager, Agribusiness Advisory at the EBRD.

The collaboration has led to a set of guidelines and promotional materials to help Serbian producers understand and comply with the new food safety bylaws and has developed a training programme including video tutorials.

This is also important for Serbia as the country's potential entry into the European Union (EU) will be facilitated by ensuring its standards are fully aligned with EU norms.

Rigid but supportive

While the new food safety rules are designed to address the needs of small-scale producers, the training makes clear that there is no room for compromise on the critical issue of hygiene.

Tamara Bosković, Head of Serbia's Veterinary Public Health Department, explains, "These regulations open doors for many small producers to diversify their markets and sales, owing to food safety requirements that take into account their volumes and food safety risks. Even producers in the mountain areas, where infrastructure is limited, can continue to produce in the traditional way, using applicable derogations from the rules while still ensuring food safety."

These new food safety regulations ensure that smaller food producers have a chance to stay in business and be competitive in the national market, while bringing time-hallowed gastronomy up to date with modern food safety knowhow. ©SEEDEV / Branko Radulović

A Serbian seal of approval

The initiative has also contributed to the development of the Serbian Quality Label which certifies the origin and quality of produce. For Serbian meat producers like Miloš, "compliance with applicable food safety and quality standards are critical as they allow market access and thus can broaden export market opportunities and increase economic returns in the sector," concludes Lisa Paglietti, an FAO economist.

For consumers in Serbia and beyond, the new regulations supported by FAO and the EBRD offer reassurance that the products they're buying are prepared both in line with the country's age-old culinary tradition and also with the benefit of modern health and safety standards.

FAO is the only specialized United Nations agency overseeing all aspects of the food value chain. This initiative is another example of the role it plays, together with EBRD and other partners, in safeguarding people's food security and health and fostering economic development through improved livelihoods.

Photo credit ©SEEDEV / Branko Radulović