Experts said the goal is to harmonise agriculture legislation with that of the EU and implement more efficient practices.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 01/05/14
The EU is assisting Balkan countries to adopt efficient agricultural practices and policies. [AFP]
The EU is helping the Balkan countries to adopt Union standards in agriculture and advance practices to improve food production, officials said.
Improving practices is important because of the relatively high percentage of regional populations living in rural areas and the agriculture sector's share of GDP, said Pandeli Pasko, liaison officer for the Balkans at the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM) in Bari, Italy.
Pasko said regional countries face numerous problems in agriculture, including implementing an integrated approach to production and more efficient and safer use of arable land.
"Well-trained farmers are needed [to counter] the first problem, and high-conscious government administration the second," Pasko told SETimes.
The two problems are particularly pronounced in Kosovo and Albania, countries with less arable land per capita than the rest of the region.
An Austria-Germany-Hungary consortium has been assisting Kosovo to establish an agricultural system based on EU standards via a Union-funded project that started in 2012 and ended in April.
It aimed to increase agriculture's contribution to economic development and growth by implementing a national agriculture and rural development programme (ARDP) as well as to build capacity and develop agriculture legislation and policy.
EU agriculture experts developed a work plan for Kosovo complete with a 2.2 million euro budget, of which 2 million euros were allocated from EU funds.
The consortium created a new ARDP project for 2014-2020 that will soon be adopted by Kosovo. Moreover, Kosovo introduced this month the Farm Accountancy Data Network -- an EU standard and a requirement for Union membership -- to formulate and implement agricultural policy.
Serbia and Macedonia have already implemented the network.
The EU is also providing direct financial support and technical assistance to advance agricultural practices concurrently with the existing EU-financed projects and rural grants for the country to adopt Union legislation.
The EU assisted Macedonia through the pre-accession Assistance for Rural Development (IPARD) funds, allocating 18 million euros in 2013. The funding for the 2014-2020 assistance period will commence with a new financial package in 2016.
"The technical assistance also means transfer of knowledge and good agricultural practices, without which production cannot be increased," Adil Behramaj, spokesperson for the Kosovo agriculture ministry, told SETimes.
Behramaj said Kosovo will progressively increase the budget and investments for agriculture. The Kosovo Agriculture Ministry already has asked for 125 million euros for 2015, focusing on producing corn, livestock and on horticulture.
A review of the legislative framework is one of the main aspects of EU's assistance. Legislative priorities include the use of pesticides in Macedonia and Serbia; organic agriculture and food safety in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia; environmental protection in Albania and Kosovo; and livestock production and capacity building in Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo.
Pasko said the Balkan countries have been slow to issue or revise legislation while politically based changes have diminished the capacity to implement legislation and projects based on EU standards.
"On the other hand, there have been very good results in the private arena, where projects on certifying and standardising high-quality products have worked very well," he said.
Pasko said some projects are more easily implemented, such as the introduction of new cultivators and technologies -- intensive fruit orchards, modern greenhouses, drip irrigation and processing units.
"This is due to private initiatives and the capacity to work without bureaucracy," Pasko added. "Every project well implemented is a step toward integration of a country into the EU."
Correspondent Miki Trajkovski in Skopje contributed to this report.
What else can the EU do to assist the Balkan countries to harmonise agricultural policy and practices with those of the Union? Share your opinion in the comments section.