The arrival of FDI brought new technologies and projects, promoted development of cooperation, facilitated establishment of strategic partnerships, overall production growth, improvements in the secondary sector, higher export of agricultural produce and food products, and higher employment
Considering that we don’t have enough domicile financing sources, I think that foreign investments are desirable. In order to create conditions for the arrival of investors, the state has implemented a series of measures that facilitate their arrival which I generally support. On the other hand, it is a well-known fact that there is no successful and profitable agricultural production without continous transfer of know-how and new technology from science to practice.
To what extent did the arrival of foreign investors contribute to development of agriculture and food industry in Vojvodina?
The arrival of foreign capital brought new technologies and projects, and promoted development of cooperation. At the same time, it facilitated establishment of strategic partnerships, overall production growth, improvements in the secondary sector, higher export of agricultural produce and food products, and higher employment. According to the data collated by the Vojvodina Development Agency, there are currently 67 companies operating on the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina which are engaged in agricultural and food production. They have around 10,500 workers and have invested over 2.5 billion EUR which is 33.2% of the total investments made on Vojvodina’s territory. This information alone speaks volumes about how much foreign investors recognize agriculture in Vojvodina as the most attractive economic branch, worth investing in.
What is your general policy in terms of attracting investments to this sector?
— I would like to use this opportunity to mention the Decree on conditions, methods and procedures for exercising the right to priority lease, the criteria for determining the rent amount for the right to lease the state agricultural land for legal entities for a period of up 30 years and up to 30% in a specific local community, which aim is to support both domicile and foreign investments, made on the basis of an investment business plan, primarily in processing sector so that more products with higher added value would be marketed in the country and abroad. So far, the relevant Commission has granted seven legal entities the right to lease state-owned agricultural land on the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, of a total size of 5,711.46 hectares, and a total investment value of around 45 million EUR. As a result, these entities also undertook to hire 182 regular workers and over 1,000 seasonal workers in the process. I would like to also underline the fact that there is a tough competition among regional countries in terms of attracting investors, and it is our task to be the first to offer the best conditions, to launch initiatives and to push our way forward with innovative ideas presented to foreign companies so that they would invest in our country.
What are the obstacles to valorization of exceptional agricultural potential, and how many of these obstacles were you able to remove?
— Despite high quality land, long tradition and experience, favourable conditions for growing various plants, and development of all segments of livestock breeding, our potential was not fully utilized and properly valorized. There are several reasons for this. Our agricultural sector is characterized by small and non-competitive agricultural holdings, small production plots, extensive production, dysfunctional irrigation systems and still insufficient land surface covered by irrigation systems, insufficient application of agro-technical measures, obsolete agricultural machinery, poor productivity in agricultural production, lesser use of new innovative technologies and the latest technological solutions, inadequate organization of agricultural producers in cooperatives and agro-clusters, as well as the lack of an adequate plan for the reionization of agricultural crops. In that context, and in order to improve the situation in our agricultural sector, the Provinicial Secretariat for Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry exercises a direct incentive policy through allocating grants based on its agricultural budget which is, this year, bigger by around 10% compared to last year’s, via several public competitions covering various agricultural segments. The grant rules stipulate that if an agricultural producer is under 40 years of age, or a woman who owns a registered agricultural holding, or a farmer who works in difficult conditions, up to 70% of their investment will be refunded. It is also worth mentioning that a part of the agricultural budget for registered agricultural holdings is 80% higher than in 2016, which also means that 22% more funds are now available for procurement of irrigation systems and construction of exploitation wells, anti-hail nets, purchase and equipping of greenhouses and procurement of beekeeping equipment, in line with the relevant competition rules. Also, we have allocated three times more funds, relative to 2016, for equipment for livestock farms, as well as four times more funds for procurement and equipping of cold-storage units and driers. Furthermore, we have implemented new agricultural measures, and improved the existing ones. These are the measures pertaining to procurement of new agricultural machinery, and supporting young people in rural areas. This is exactly why it is not enough to support only registered agricultural holdings, but we also need to invest in infrastructure in local communities which is what we have been doing through competitions for co-fuding construction and reconstruction of water supply facilities in public domain and sewage facilities, removal of unregulated landfills from the state-owned agricultural land, and building roads to rural areas and mud removal areas. Also, thanks to the funds from the Abu Dhabi Development Fund, over 1.3 billion dinars will be invested in regional irrigation systems which will provide water for 23,000 hectares of arable land. The line Secretariat has also allocated funds for advancement of agriculture and rural development, spread across 20 different competitions. There is also a growing interest from farmers for the measures that we are implementing, and we are doing our best in responding to their requirements.
Thanks to the Biosens Institute, Vojvodina and Serbia now have exceptional research capacities in IT and agriculture. How are these capacities going to be valorized in the future?
— The Provincial Secretariat for Agriculture is providing funds for the Biosens Institute via the project called „Remote Detection Monitoring in Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry“. The project’s aim is to obtain a seeding structure for the five most important agricultural crops in Vojvodina: wheat, corn, soybean, sunflower and sugar beet, as well as carry out the detection of forest areas and hydrography. Based on the collected spatial data, services and recommendations will be created for the the advisory services of AP Vojvodina, as well as for agricultural producers.
What can the province do to strengthen scientific and market capacities of other institutions in the field of agriculture such as the Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops?
— It is a well-known fact that there is no successful and profitable agricultural production without continous transfer of know-how and new technology from science to practice. Hence, we, at the Provincial Secretariat for Agriculture, have implemented an agricultural policy measure that includes research and development institutions for the first time ever. The aim of this initiative is to provide funds for better utilization, improvement and preservation of fertility of agricultural land. The Secretariat and the Institute of Field and Vegetable Crops have created a consortium for the implementation of a cross-border project for establishment of agricultural incubators. Our intent is to support other institutions too through connecting institutions engaged in complementary activities through regional and international agreements and bilateral treaties with other countries, with the view of contributing to development of breeding and selection work, as well as to greater export of domestic high quality seed of the appropriate genetic fertility potential to different markets.
What are the most important export markets in which Vojvodina could achieve better results?
— I think that all world markets are equally important for export of Serbian agricultural and food products. Also, we need to work on their greater representation and better positioning on existing markets, as well as on opening of new channels for exporting goods to new markets. Apart from the EU, the CEFTA countries and the Russian Federation to which we all export, China and the countries of the Euroasian Economic Union are also going to be very important for us. The relevant state bodies have already made first steps towards breaking into these huge markets.