The fourth online conference organized by the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on “The impact of coronaviruses on the agricultural and food industries” was held in Belgrade today, April 15, 2020.
Panellists at this conference were: Veljko JOVANOVIC (Director of the Agricultural Sector – Serbian Chamber of Commerce), Miodrag JELIC (General Manager – Lesaffre), Nenad RATKOV (Executive Director – Sanders SH), Frédéric MOULIN (General Director – Axereal), Marie-Luce GHIB (Agricultural Advisor for Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia – French Embassy in Bucharest). The participants pointed out the problems in the logistics organization in these sectors at the beginning of the state of emergency, and confirmed that the situation is currently stabilized, that products and supply chains are operating, so that consumers do not have to create supplies.
Veljko Jovanovic, director of the agricultural sector at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, said that the new situation had caused panic at first, and that logistics were the biggest problem at the beginning of the crisis. With the stabilization of the situation and alleviation of the panic of citizenship, the procurement of wholesale foods such as yeast, flour and others has also decreased. Jovanovic added that it is important that in all sectors large companies connect with small and medium-sized producers and that the whole chain should be thought through jointly. He welcomed the evolving digital market concept and said that consumer habits were changing and that digitalization in the agricultural sector would be increasingly visible after the coronavirus pandemic.
Miodrag Jelic, CEO of Lesaffre, a yeast producer, said the demand for yeast was very high at the onset of the state of emergency and that logistics was the biggest difficulty. With the help of the state and the ministry of commerce, they were able to supply the market from their facilities in Budapest, as well as from other manufacturing facilities in Serbia. In Bulgaria, according to Jelic, the problem was even greater than in Serbia because their distribution centre is in Turkey, and supply was even more complicated because of the border situation. The negative effect of the situation on the activity of this company is reflected in the difficult business of smaller bakers, their important partners, and as a lesson, we learned from this situation, it seems that companies need to be more cautious and more prepared for such situations in the future through timely provision of supplies.
Frederic Moulin, CEO of Axereal, said that it was challenging for the company to change operations and move online and that exports were difficult, primarily to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Italy, but that the situation was slowly stabilizing. As far as the seed trade is concerned, it is not blocked at this time, but it is considerably limited in quantity. He also said that the current situation, when numerous sporting events and concerts were cancelled and restaurants closed, the beer and wine industry recorded significant losses.
Nenad Ratkov, Sanders’ chief operating officer, confirmed that there was panic among farmers and that demand for livestock was intensified during March, that supplies were created, but that the situation had now returned to normal. He stated that the production of fodder and nutritional supplements is stable and can meet the needs of the market. Ratkov said that is important to invest in new approaches to agricultural production, ways to promote products, education and more efficient business.
Marie-Luce Ghib, Agricultural Advisor for Romania, Bulgaria & Serbia at the French Embassy in Bucharest, said countries have reacted differently to the new situation, some have reduced trade, some have temporarily banned exports, but it is also important that panic be controlled and to keep the international market stable. Through open cooperation with institutional partners, such as the Customs Administration and the Ministries of Commerce and Transport of the countries of the region, countries must fight for easier exchanges of agricultural products. Ghib said it was also very important to combat fake news and unreliable sources of information.
The moderator was Sanja Ivanic, director general of the French-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who reminded that the chamber was at the disposal of all its members and partners in resolving any difficulties during business during these times of crisis. She also announced the upcoming regional conference on transportation and logistics organized by CCIFS on Thursday 23 April.