Farmers will have to grow plants that can tolerate extreme drought conditions, experts said.
By Mladen Dragojlovic for Southeast European Times in Banja Luka -- 16/01/13
Croatia's agricultural heartland and other crop producing areas in the Balkans have been hard hit by climate changes. [AFP]
Climate changes have caused significant damage to regional agriculture and economies, and experts are urging governments to add new measures to help farmers stem the loss of crops and revenue.
"Last year was one of warmest in the past 100 years, and the forecast for this year is similar. ... [C]limate change will continue to cause problems to farmers. There will be drought during the summer and more precipitation in winter, which will cause floods," Nebojsa Kustrinovic, a member of BiH's Commission for Climate Change, told SETimes.
Experts anticipate the breadbasket areas of Vojvodina in Serbia, Slavonia in Croatia, Pelagonia in Macedonia and eastern BiH will be most adversely affected, and must take specific action to prevent a disaster.
"Nearly a quarter of the Croatian economy is based on sectors vulnerable to climate change, including agriculture and tourism. Between 2000 and 2007, extreme weather conditions ... caused damage to agriculture in the amount of 176 million euros," said a report authored by Zavisa Simac of the Croatian Council for Protection and Rescue, Ksenija Vitale of the Medicine Faculty in Zagreb and other experts.
The report offered a set of recommendations which include changing production modes, including drought-tolerant crops and sewing plants earlier in the season.
Meanwhile, agriculture experts must work on improving the existing plant varieties to be more adaptable to the new weather conditions, Mihajlo Markovic, director of the Republika Srpska Agricultural Institute, told SETimes.
Only 0.86 percent of Croatia's arable land is covered by the existing irrigation system. Moreover, farmers said it is impossible to collect water in the existing canal system during autumn's rainfall period.
But irrigation is not enough, and officials do not seem to be aware of the depth of the problem, according to Darko Znaor, agriculture and ecology consultant in Zagreb.
"The government needs to sideline irrigation and implement measures for the soil to retain water," Znaor told SETimes.
Adopting such measures may reverse the trend of losing production and significant revenue, Milos Nozinic, who works at the Republika Srpska Agricultural Institute, said. Corn is grown on 400,000 hectares in Croatia, 1.5 million hectares in Serbia and 200,000 hectares in BiH.
"At 0.25 euros per kilogram of corn, it is a disaster if the drought decreases the yield by only a tonne per hectare. But, if farmers sow corn adaptable to drought and increase production even one tonne per hectare, it would tremendously boost farmers' and state income," Nozinic told SETimes.
Though governments have raised the budget for agriculture this year, it may not be enough to ease the farmers' hardship.
"This year, we must insist on fair distribution of the budget. Otherwise, farmers will experience even bigger problems with the climate changes," Miroslav Kis, president of the Serbian Association of Farmers, told SETimes.