Use of Farmland Becoming Economic and Political Problem

By 12 April 2019

ZAGREB, April 12, 2019 - The use of state-owned farmland is becoming not only an economic but also a political problem that will be difficult to solve without a clear position of the Agriculture Ministry, and the failure to solve it will continue to contribute to the depopulation of rural areas, it was said at a round table discussion on the use of state-owned farmland, held in the eastern city of Osijek on Friday.

Vladimir Margeta of the association of family farms "Život", which organised the event, said that more than a year had passed since the adoption of the State-Owned Farmland Management Act but that less than one-third of development programmes which towns and municipalities submitted to the Agriculture Ministry had been approved, which was why no tenders for grants were being advertised.

Speaking of the renewal of concession agreements with mirror companies from the former Agrokor conglomerate, Margeta said that farmland was the main resource of agricultural production and that it should be privatised as well as that a review of how farmland had been allocated so far should be conducted.

He said that he believed that "this is actually a political decision just as it was when concessions were awarded the first time" and that his association believed that that decision should not be shifted to local government units.

"Some mayors have still not signed extensions of farmland lease contracts and tell us that they are being pressured into doing so as soon as possible. That situation is not good and will result in processes which we have been witnessing in recent years, such as depopulation and low birth rates," said Margeta, noting that people who wished to engage in agriculture could not obtain a contract on the lease of farmland for cultivation or obtained it at a price that was several times higher than the price paid by companies from the former Agrokor conglomerate.

Snježana Kraml, a representative of the Agriculture Ministry, said that the ministry had so far received 381 development programmes, of which 168 had been consented to, and that local government units could start preparing for tenders.

"Programmes that have been prepared well have been forwarded to counties for adoption and those with shortcomings have been returned to local government units for correction, with instructions on how to do it," she said.

Tomislav Panenić, chair of the parliamentary Agriculture Committee, said that under the Farmland Act mayors and municipality heads "can practically decide on their own whether or not they want to sign certain contracts or annexes to contracts", while on the other hand, there was the Emergency Administration in Strategically Important Companies Act, which refers to the former Agrokor group, and under which that could be done by force of law.

Panenić said that the prosecutorial authorities maintained that under the Emergency Administration in Strategically Important Companies Act the signing of lease agreements with companies from the former Agrokor group could be achieved by force of law, and he wondered why that had not been done and why local authorities were being forced to make decisions that were contrary to the interests of their communities.

There is no clear position on the part of the Agriculture Ministry on how the annex signing procedure will unfold and the deadline is very near because May 15 is the deadline for registration for direct payments, Panenić said.

He said that he feared mayors would shift decision-making onto municipal and town councils, which also include local farm producers and which could have problem making decisions to the benefit of successor companies to the Agrokor conglomerate.

"I believe that local officials expect the government to assume that responsibility rather than forcing them to make problematic decisions," said Panenić.

More agriculture news can be found in the Business section.