The Green European Foundation, in cooperation with the Networked, Serbia, organized a panel named "Fair and Healthy Food" on March 4, 2019. in the conference room of the Cultural Center Grad (KC Grad) in Belgrade, Serbia. Speakers, Stela Strsoglavec from the Center for Sustainable Development and Education - Educa Humana, Saša Petrović from the Ama Center for the Care of People and Nature, and Ana Svilar from Green Mind Consulting discussed on the topic of agricultural policies of Serbia and the EU, as well as agro ecological direction as an alternative to industrial food production. The conversation was moderated by Violeta Jovanov Peštanac.
The panel was opened by Žaklina Živković from Networked, who stated that dominant food systems and industrial agriculture cause environmental degradation and acceleration of climate change, cause economic difficulties for small farmers, a negative impact on health and unsafe food for many. "The future lies in the agro ecological paradigm, based on fundamentally different relations between agriculture and the environment, between the food systems and the citizens," Zivkovic said.
The discussion began with the question of what is sustainable agriculture?
"When it comes to sustainability of agriculture, most people consider sustainability through the ecological aspect, while the economy aspect is neglected, which is the most important in my opinion," Saša Petrović stated. "Today we live in a neoliberal economic system, in which it is impossible to talk only about a food production system, because the fact is that five hundred corporations worldwide control the whole chain – from the seed production to the food we buy in supermarkets. It is important to support small food producers, because as some studies show, they produce 70% of the world's food, while 80% of funds goes to large corporations, and only 20% go to small producers. It is clear that we cannot talk about just food production as an isolated system. For this reason, it is necessary to work on redistributing profits within the entire value chain. So for the beginning it is most important to understand the economic structure of the food production system, in order to talk about the healthy and ecological aspect of food production, " Petrović pointed out.
Stela Strsoglavec emphasized that there are two priorities in practice, one is quick and easy money, and the other is quality, sustainable food production. "When you have two different goals, then you have two completely different methods. Industrial food production tends to be faster and easier, and in this case there is a questionable quality of food and the impact on the environment is not in focus. The economic factor is primary, the social factor is only a consequence, and the ecological factor is completely neglected. The sustainable production of food represents a set of economic, social and ecological development. When wondering whether is something sustainable or unsustainable food production, we need to first look at how this food is produced, " stressed Strsoglavec.
"Agriculture is what we all depend on, in order to survive, we have to produce food. In what way we will produce food depends on us. And the fact that small and medium farms cover most of our needs says that we can produce the food we need in sustainable manner. Sustainability also means saving resources, and what I have noticed in my work is that resources are often wasted in Serbia, "said Ana Svilar.
The debate also addressed EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
"Common European agricultural policy is not perfect, but it is established in a way to contribute to the development of rural areas and the quality of life in these areas. Western Europe countries already have an experience with intensive agriculture, and they have seen the negative effects on the environment and now they are encouraging the big producers to adopt sustainable practices," said Stela Strsoglavec. She stated that decision makers in Serbia continue to see intensive agriculture as the only form of agricultural production. "Intensive production is using an excuse that we need to produce food in such a way to eradicate hunger, but the fact is that the entire planet produces more than we need, it's only poorly distributed. Serbia as the EU candidate country is now in a position where we need to emphasize our specificities, on one side to find the points of merging with European agricultural policies, and on other to try to negotiate to preserve our local, sustainable practices," concluded Strsoglavec.
Saša Petrović pointed to practices that exist in the EU countries. "I would like to mention the example of Germany, which we often look up to. In Germany today, small farmers are protesting against industrial food production and unfair distribution of subsidies. In that country, 80% of subsidies go to large industrial food producers, so it is not great situation in there either. In Croatia, one data best illustrates this situation before and after the EU: Croatia produced 70% of the food to satisfy domestic needs before the EU, and imported 30%. While today we have been in the EU for six years now, and we are now importing 70%, and we produce 30% for domestic needs. So the EU brings new opportunities for financing, and subsidizing agricultural production, but under these conditions small producers still cannot afford to be competitive with big industrial producers. That is why it is important to first talk about the economic system in which we live, so that we first understand, and later offer some solutions. "
To show that there are good examples, Sasa mentioned the case from Italy: "Italy has a deep-rooted culture of direct cooperation between farmers and consumers. In that country there are solidarity groups, which are consumer co-operatives in which a group of citizens directly buys from producers without intermediaries. Manufacturers in this way get a secure placement on the market. Most of these manufacturers have organic production so consumers get cheaper quality products than they are on the market. "
As the EU's pre-accession funds for agriculture (IPARD) consultant, Ana Svilar said that it is necessary for the institutions to be more involved in advising and assisting farmers in terms of what and how to produce, and be less concerned with the development of seed or the pesticide industry. "Agricultural producers in Serbia are ready for the EU, but they are not sufficiently informed about how to implement the conditions that the IPARD program prescribes. Serbia needs to take advantage of its position, because the EU sees its agriculture as a primary activity and. IPARD certainly supports green agriculture, because precisely the green criteria improve the possibility of obtaining some funds. What is expected of us through Chapter 27 of the EU accession is the formation of a green fund, whose assets will be able to be used by agricultural producers." concluded Svilar.
Small – scale farmers are the foundation of sustainable food production
All speakers emphasized that the small-scale farmers are backbone of sustainable food production and the importance of preserving and supporting protected areas such as Stara Planina and the whole southeastern Serbia, as rural areas in Serbia. All those small farms need to continue to produce in the way they are now producing, but to join their forces through cooperatives and in that way to expand their activities, to promote products through rural tourism, and establish contact with people from urban areas, to enable them to purchase these products in cities, and not buying in super markets.
After the discussion there was a dinner and networking organized in the Cultural Center Grad for more than 100 guests. Minja Nikolic, an activist from the woman association New Old Mountain, which is fighting to preserve the rivers in this protected natural area, has prepared together with the members of Networked a dinner called "Tastes of the Old Mountain" from authentic ingredients.
"New Old Mountain have 30 women members. On Stara Planina, women made an association, in order to educate themselves, and visited various manifestations on which we can present our products: food, crafts. There is no manifestation at which we have not received any reward. You'll see tonight that the ingredients we use are completely organic, for example the mushrooms used we personally picked with our hands and I think it is important that these practices are supported and developed, "Minja said.
The panel and dinner were organized by the Green European Foundation, supported by the Networked Serbia, with the financial support of the European Parliament for the Green European Foundation.