Although this year's raspberry fruit is better quality, prices are lower than last year.
By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade – 18/08/11
Serbia is among the world's top raspberry producers. [Reuters]
Strikes and protests by Serbia's raspberry growers, who clashed with police, failed to set the purchase price for this year's raspberry harvest at last year's figure of 1.5 euros per kilogram. Instead, a kilogram of raspberries this year will go for one euro.
"They [industrial refrigerating facilities' owners] brought down our price by 30%," said Stevan Vukojevic, a disappointed farmer from the Arilje area farmland, summing up the general sentiment for SETimes.
It behooves the state to invest the most in this strategic fruit of Serbia's agriculture, he added, especially because agriculture has suffered in the last 30 years.
Serbia is second only to Russia in producing raspberries and this year's harvest may reach 85,000 tonnes.
Industrial refrigerator owners, which use such facilities to store the raspberries, offered an even lower price at the beginning of the harvest, or 90 cents per kilogram. They justified their offer by the low price of raspberries on the world market and by the fact that sales are down.
In addition, they say there are still raspberry inventories from last year's harvest.
Farmers demanded 1.26 euros per kilogram, but failing to achieve that price, about 1,000 blocked the Arilje-Ivanjica road in a sign of protest.
As the protests grew, the farmers vowed to come by tractors to rally outside the government building in Belgrade.
"The state should not interfere in agreements between farmers and purchasers. They should have talked on time and found a solution," Ministry of Agriculture State Secretary Ljubisa Dimitrijevic told SETimes.
But the state did interfere as police prevented the farmers from visiting Belgrade, causing violent incidents in which several policemen were injured.
"We were almost on the verge of civil war," Association of Raspberry Producers (Vilamet) Vice-President Dushko Nenadic told SETimes.
"We started off peacefully with our machines and tractors but the police did not allow us to form a column. Anything could have happened," Nenadic said.
Independent Trade Unions of Serbia President Ljubisav Orbovic told SETimes that Vojvodina farmers were similarly prevented from protesting in Belgrade last June. "The state is afraid of protests because there are many disgruntled peasants and workers," Orbovic said.
After the protest tensions continued over several days, Minister of Agriculture and Trade Dusan Petrovic began talks with the farmers and purchasers. But the refrigerating facilities' owners did not budge.
Petrovic told Tanjug the owners would be eligible for favourable loans from the Republic Fund for Development to enable them to offer higher prices to the raspberry producers. He promised the money will be approved as soon as possible.
"We also agreed that we [would] begin now preparations for the next season," Petrovic said.
Vilamet's President Dragan Bogdanovic said the one euro price is a compromise solution. "It is just a starting price; we will see what buyers will offer up to the end of the season," he told SETimes.
One euro is slightly higher than the initially-offered 90 cents and will apply only in the Arlije region, better known as "the world's raspberry capital". Producers elsewhere must negotiate and persuade purchasers to take credits from the development fund.