Friday, 9 April 2021

Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković Delivers Three Rural Development Programme Contracts

ZAGREB, 9 April, 2021 - Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković on Friday presented three contracts from the Rural Development Programme worth HRK 8.5 million to beneficiaries in Jarmina municipality in eastern Croatia.

She also attended the opening of "Jarmina", the first kindergarten in the municipality in which HRK 7 million was invested from EU funds and her ministry's Rural Development Programme. It will be attended by 75 children.

Vučković told the press this was the 12th kindergarten in Vukovar-Srijem County built with funds from the Rural Development Programme, for which HRK 56 million was ensured, adding that 200 kindergartens would be opened in Croatia thanks to over HRK 1 billion from the programme.

The 12 kindergartens have been opened in communities with a population of below 5,000.

Vučković said kindergartens were important for keeping young families in villages, adding that her ministry would soon advertise calls for the construction of more kindergartens, farmers' markets, firehouses and community culture centres.

Last year the Croatian EU presidency secured the support of the member states for a transitional regulation to enable continuity of financing until "the whole common agricultural policy reform is adopted," the minister said, adding that the reconstruction and construction of the social infrastructure in rural areas would continue.

Over €5 billion for Croatian agriculture

Vučković announced that Croatia would receive over €5 billion for agriculture in the EU's 2021-27 budget.

She said 12.9% of Croatian farmers and over 20% in Vukovar-Srijem County were under 41.

(€1 = HRK 7.5)

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

STARS Project Gives Guidelines For €5 Billion Made Available to Agriculture Sector

ZAGREB, 8 April, 2021 - Documents resulting from the Strategic Transformation in Agriculture and Rural Space (STARS) project will help determine how around five billion euros that have been made available for Croatia's agricultural sector will be spent, Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković said on Thursday.

The Agriculture Ministry and the World Bank cooperated on the STARS project, and the agreement on project cooperation was signed in October 2018.

Analyses, studies and guidelines made during the project have thus been significantly used also in making a draft agricultural strategy for the period until 2030, which has been put to public consultation, and in making a national aquaculture development plan for the period 2021-2027. Both documents are aimed at enhancing the sectors' competitiveness and adapting them to current conditions.

Numerous domestic and foreign experts, sector stakeholders, employees of the Agriculture Ministry and other Croatian institutions and universities cooperated on the project, with Vučković noting that the start of work on the project had coincided with debates about the future of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which will affect financing priorities and development of agriculture in all member states.

The project served to reexamine the situation and needs of the Croatian farm sector, as well as the measures that are being implemented, and its documents will be used in deciding how the roughly five billion euros intended for Croatian agriculture will be used, Vučković said.

Great chances for development of Croatian farm sector

Project coordinator Svetlana Edmeades of the World Bank said that the World Bank strongly believed that Croatia had great chances for the development of its farm sector.

Farm producers have central place in the project, which identifies as national strategic goals an increase in productivity and in the resilience of farm production to climate change, stronger competitiveness of the agricultural and food sector, revival of rural economy and improving living conditions in rural areas.

Edmeades underlined the importance of knowledge and innovations, noting that the development of Croatia's agriculture should be green, resilient and inclusive, which includes, among other things, production of organic food, sector resilience to shocks, as well as greater involvement of smaller producers in existing value chains.

She said the project achievements were a number of reports that should serve as guidelines for the ministry and farm producers towards a green, resilient and inclusive agriculture.

The World Bank official said that the analyses were expected to significantly contribute to the government's programme with regard to specific targets in the farm sector, in the making of a national agricultural and rural development strategy, participation of agriculture in the national recovery and resilience plan, and national strategic planning within CAP.

Value of agricultural production to be raised to HRK 30bn by 2030 

State secretaries Tugomir Majdak, Zdravko Tušek and Šime Mršić presented the draft agricultural strategy for the period until 2030 and the national plan for the development of aquaculture in the period 2021-2027.

The officials said that the projected effects of the strategy until 2030 were an increase in labour productivity of 60% and the consequent increase in the value of farm production to HRK 30 billion, for which funds in the amount of €7.5 billion were envisaged.

This should be achieved, among other things, by a 35% increase in the number of locally bred fattening pigs, a 20% increase in cattle breeding, expanding areas under permanent crops by 5,000 hectares and areas where crops are grown under glass by 500 hectares, a 20% increase in the share of the food industry in GDP and a 30% increase in the number of producers in short supply chains.

The national plan for the development of aquaculture in the period 2021-2027, which is being made, will put emphasis on stronger competitiveness and the creation of 15% more jobs in the rural and coastal economies in the aquaculture value chain, including an increase in total production volume of 30%, a 35% increase in added value in the processing of aquaculture products, and an increase in the average annual consumption of aquaculture products per capita by as much as 50%, the Agriculture Ministry said.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Poreč Strengthens Agriculture with Exciting New Projects

March 24, 2021 - Poreč strengthens agriculture with exciting new projects implemented by the City. 

Last Friday the city of Poreč signed contracts for assigning funds to the agricultural civil societies to help their projects and programs. The continuation of the tradition established in the last two years, Poreč city gave 150.000 kuna to associations Bio Istra and Agro Poreč through a public contest, both for their day-to-day work in agriculture and for the project "Eko! impjantamo ružmarin" (Eco! let's plant rosemary) which includes going to schools and giving pupils unprocessed rosemary to plant in the school. The project is at full speed and even the coronavirus pandemic didn't stop them, as the first phase of the project was done via Zoom.  In the early stages of the project, the goal is to establish cooperation between the only two high schools in Poreč: Mate Balot High School and Anton Štifanić Tourist School.

"We started with the first workshop in preparing rosemary seedlings with the agrotechnical pupils at Mate Balot and we will use it to decorate the garden of Anton Štifanić Tourist School," said Vlasta Radoičić, president of Bio Istra. Her association exists for the past 23 years and is working on the county level, determined to activate as many people as possible to boost family agricultural businesses. 

"Poreč was the cornerstone of eco-agriculture and it needs to remain that today and become a modern teacher of the area", concluded Radojčić.

Poreč is one of the strongholds of Croatian tourism in Istria, but it's also a truly agricultural city. Loris Peršurić, mayor of Poreč not only knows it but strongly supports it. 

"We have a 145-year-old institute for agriculture and tourism as well as a 138-year-old agriculture school, the only one in Istria, which means a lot for our city", said Peršurić. He adds that is precisely why he tries to support and help projects related to agriculture which includes co-financing the Centre for invasive species in common projects and as mayor, hopes to valorize a wine cellar that dates from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy rule and is known today as enoteca (wine library) in the community. "Poreč is the headquarters of famous winemakers and olive oil makers and our agricultural story continues to grow and develop", concludes Peršić.  

The city also finances the project "Apply for Agriculture School - Produce Food and Take Care of the Environment" which resulted in a 50% increase in pupils educating in the school and there are opportunities for pupils to continue education in the field in Poreč too. 

seedling_planting_-c-_Udruga_Bio_Istra.jpg

seedling planting © Udruga Bio Istra

 Local olive treasure

Poreč is also proud of its local olive species Porečka Rosulja, which was first described by a famous local scientist Carlo Hugues 120 years ago. The olive wasn't researched much after that, but today, scientists from the Agriculture and Tourism Institute are out on the field to pursue the described treasure of the Poreč olive scene. Agro Poreč association secretary Zdenko Barac whose organization is dedicated to promoting local agriculture and seedlings distribution is included in this research. He is thankful that the city recognized the importance of Porečka Rosulja and its investment in the "mother field" in Poreč where new seedlings will be prepared for further distribution and for another olive plantation in St. Martin Bay, which will have both educational purposes and will be a nice architectural touch to the landscape of the area. No to mention, a nice dedication to Hugues which first described the species.  

"The number of seedlings is growing. This is the third year of the project where we have 530 seedlings and we started with 170 in 2019", says Barac. The plan is to prepare the best seeding material and apply them to the  Croatian Center for Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs.

"There are very few cases in the world where a species is named after city so we can boast about that", concluded Barac.

For more about agriculture in Croatia follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Petir: Agricultural Strategy Should Cover Status of Women in Rural Areas

ZAGREB, 8 March, 2021 - The chair of the Croatian Parliament Committee on Agriculture, Marijana Petir, has sent an initiative to the Minister of Agriculture to include activities aimed at improving the status of women in rural areas in the Agricultural Strategy and introduce a special sub-programme for women in rural areas.

Given that the Agricultural Strategy 2020-2030 is in the final stage of preparation, it is important for women in rural areas to be included in it in a separate section. That, in turn, would require preparation of an action plan that would deal with the status of women in rural areas, Petir said on the occasion of International Women's Day.

The plan would, among other things, address such important issues as the "invisible work" of farm women, access to land ownership, achieving economic independence, preventing the risk of poverty and unemployment, and increasing the representation of women in decision-making bodies.

Petir said that the national strategic plan, which is being developed, should include a special sub-programme for women in rural areas as provided for by the EU's common agricultural policy. Such a sub-programme could improve the status of women in rural areas, create jobs for them, help them in investing in physical assets, contribute to the development of farms and their operations, and ensure conditions for basic services and revitalisation of rural areas, she said.

"I hope that these activities will help improve the status of women in the rural areas of Croatia and that their irreplaceable role in sustaining the rural areas will start to be fairly evaluated," Petir said.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Almost HRK 7 Billion Paid To Farmers In Support In 2020

ZAGREB, 3 March, 2021 - Last year the Agriculture Ministry paid a total of HRK 6.99 billion in support for farmers, which is 20% or 1.16 billion more than in 2019.

In a press release on Wednesday, the ministry said that support paid in 2020 from EU finds amounted to HRK 5.5 billion which is 23% or 1.04 billion more than 2019 and the largest amount of EU funds paid out ever.

In 2020, just before Croatia's presidency of the Council of the EU ended, a regulation on support for rural development from the European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development was amended, enabling Measure 21 -"'Extraordinary temporary support for farmers and SMEs particularly affected by the crisis caused by the disease COVID-19," under which Croatian farmers were allocated an additional HRK 360 million.

Thanks partially to COVID measures, this year's wine envelope has the greatest absorption ever, by as much as 94% and about HRK 76 million was invested in the wine sector in 2020, the ministry said in its press release.

Amendments to the EU regulation on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, aimed at relieving the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, enabled measures amounting to HRK 180 million.

At the same time, HRK 3.04 billion was paid in direct payments to farmers last year, or HRK 121.34 million more than in 2019.

The ministry noted that money from the state budget is earmarked to finance national support programmes and in that regard HRK1.49 billion was paid out, which is 9% or HRK 121.47 million more than in 2019.

 

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

More Than 1,000 Tonnes of Fodder For Earthquake Areas

ZAGREB, 3 March, 2021 - The Ministry of Agriculture said on Wednesday that it had received more than a thousand tonnes of fodder for earthquake-hit areas and that more than 868 tonnes had been distributed to farmers, adding that it was in the process of procuring an additional 621 tonnes valued at HRK 1.5 million.

The ministry said in a press release that as of 1 March 1,012 tonnes of fodder had been received in warehouses in Petrinja and Glina and that more than 868 tonnes had been distributed through 3,627 individual donations.

The fodder was received through donations from 69 donors from all over Croatia.

The ministry advised that it is launching procedures for the procurement of an additional 621 tonnes of fodder valued a HRK 1.5 million which will ensure enough fodder for cattle in earthquake affected areas for one month's time.

Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković said that the ministry was endeavouring to secure all the necessary preconditions so that production doesn't stop in Banovina. In addition to providing fodder for animals, the ministry mediated in the temporary transfer of 306 head of cattle as well as selling 234 head at fair market prices.

She recalled that all animals in the area are eligible for free vaccination and veterinary treatment until 31 March. The expected cost of that measure amounts to HRK 10.5 million and it will be financed from the state budget.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Croatian Agriculture Has Shown Resilience, Says Minister

ZAGREB, 19 February, 2021 - Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković was visiting Vukovar-Srijem County on Friday, where she presented contracts on the co-financing of projects from the Rural Development Programme and said that Croatian agriculture has shown resilience.

Citing Croatian Bureau of Statistics estimates, she said in Vukovar that agricultural production grew by 7% or HRK 1.4 billion in 2020, the highest increase since 2008, while gross added value and factor and entrepreneurial incomes increased between 14 and 16%.

Those figures show that Croatian agriculture is not on a bad path, that domestic producers are resilient and creative, and that the Rural Development Programme is showing results, the minister said.

"We have to insist on economic programmes for farmland, on connecting everyone in the food production chain and on boosting the processing industry, which will then best stimulate primary agricultural production," Vučković said.

Without increasing productivity and competitiveness, Slavonia cannot become stronger, she said.

Speaking of a farmland bill, the minister said the government wished to debate it with everyone concerned. As our most valuable resource, farmland is worth much more than all the incentives we will receive from the EU, she added.

Responding to questions from the press, Vučković said the government and her ministry had done their best to boost the sugar industry in Croatia.

Monday, 25 January 2021

Young Croat Josip Popcevic Pioneers Preservation of Super-Pollinating Bees

January 25, 2021 – Croat Josip Popcevic has already decided to dedicate his young life to little-known solitary bees. The reason? They are super-pollinators - our very future could depend on them

Croatia is not unknowledgeable when it comes to bees. Beekeeping is a traditional part of rural life in Croatia. Indeed, Slavonian honey is protected at an EU-level and the honey of Istrian is in the process of requesting the same.

honey-752145_1920.jpgCroatian honey is renowned throughout the region. Slavonian honey is protected at an EU level

Vast tracts of land in Croatia are dedicated to successful agriculture. Here, too, the worth of bees is well known. Bees are known to pollinate upwards of 80% of all the crops we eat (pollination is how male and female plants reproduce and make seeds).

Garlic, parsley, apples, cherries, apricots, lemons, asparagus, pumpkin, cucumber, broccoli, courgette (zucchini), cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, aubergine (eggplant), watermelon, celery, kale, peppers and all berries are cultivated widely across Croatia, providing incomes, employment and food. The pollination of all of them relies on bees.

beekeeper-4426003_1920.jpgThe honey made from beekeeping in Istria is currently applying to the EU for the same protected designation awarded to that from Slavonia

However, for all of the awareness of bees' importance in Croatia, much of is restricted to the familiar scenes of traditional beekeeping. We are only too aware of the diseases and pollutants that can damage these precious colonies that produce our honey and pollinate our plants.

But, the truth of the integral roles bees play in our livelihoods and food is actually very different from what we imagine. It is a truth far removed from the colonies and hives of mask-wearing, honey-collecting beekeepers. Because up to 90% of all bees do not live in colonies at all. Those who don't aren't social, community creatures at all. They live a solitary existence. They are solitary bees. And, these solitary bees are far more important to the pollination of our plants than the colonies that live in hives. Just one single Red Mason bee (one of the many types of solitary bee that lives in Croatia) is equivalent to 120 worker honeybees in the pollination it provides.

nature-3084524_1920.jpgSolitary bees are the best pollinators of all bees

One person who is not unaware of the importance of solitary bees to our existence is 27-year-old Croat Josip Popcevic from Zbjegovača, a small village near Kutina. Since graduating in Production Engineering at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture, Josip Popcevic has turned his mind back to the rural landscape from which he comes and has dedicated himself to the preservation, protection and furtherance of the solitary bee population so integral to our existence.

142487543_172100968036831_2629020874627304058_n.jpgHousing for solitary bees made by Josip Popcevic © Cornuta / Josip Popcevic

One of Josip Popcevic's great ideas for securing the future of these important solitary bees could perhaps only come from an engineer – he has decided to build houses for them. This is no easy task. Unlike honey bees, who can live comfortably alongside thousands of others within a colony, solitary bees – as their name suggests – live completely alone. Except when mating, they do not depend on other bees at all. They most often nest in the ground, in wood and other natural materials. They are more active at lower temperatures, do not fly far from where they live, they are less aggressive than colony bees and they do not sting.

tubescon.jpgOne of Josip's houses for solitary bees, at work within a Croatian agricultural endeavour © Cornuta

After recognising the worth of solitary bees to pollination, Josip Popcevic realised he could simultaneously run an endeavour of preservation in tandem with a business that was commercially viable to the agricultural industry. He founded the company Cornuta, through which he provided fruit growers with the service of pollination using solitary bees. Now he has extended the business to building houses for solitary bees. He now sells the houses to those operating within the agricultural sector. And, while his efforts currently lie solely within the borders of Croatia, thanks in part to a business competition grant, he has his eyes on expansion of his endeavours into both neighbouring countries and local communities.

one_konacno-288x300.png© Cornuta

“I will soon start placing dwellings for solitary bees on public areas such as parks and school gardens,” Josip Popcevic told Jutarnji List in a recent interview. “I want to dedicate myself even more to educating citizens to become aware of the importance of bees for our planet. There is still a lot of room for improvement and I think that this activity will be even more popular in the years to come.”

nature-4371321_1920.jpgA solitary bee, one of the most important pollinators in the world

Friday, 15 January 2021

Par'l Committee: Concrete Support to Farmers in Earthquake-Hit Areas Needed Now

ZAGREB, 15 January, 2021 - Farmers in earthquake-hit areas need concrete help immediately so that they can stay and live and work there, it was said at a meeting of the parliamentary Agriculture Committee on Friday.

In three months' time the committee will convene to analyse what has been done to assist people affected by the earthquakes in 2020.

Farmers are faced with many problems - damaged houses, farm buildings and equipment, polluted wells and buyers who are taking advantage of the situation and offering low prices for their cattle, the committee heard.

The one thing that is obvious is that no one wants to leave their homes, the committee chair, MP Marijana Petir, said.

She said that farmers should be provided with temporary accommodation as soon as possible but also with shelter for farm animals. "We need to act quickly and concretely because if farms shut down, they will never reopen," underscored Petir.

She added that applications for farm support need to be make simpler for earthquake-hit areas as farmers there cannot meet the current criteria.

Everyone needs help immediately

Božidar Antolec from a local action group called for help so that local farmers can place their products on the market and that they be temporarily exempted from paying contributions or at least that they be deferred.

Croatian Chamber of Agriculture (HPK) president Mladen Jakopović said that two large retail chains had offered to place farmers' products from earthquake areas on their shelves through a simplified procedure and one had promised logistics in that regard.

The HPK advocates that support should be provided so that people remain in the area. Jakopović said that the HPK was delivering the first of several housing containers to the area today.

The committee's deputy chair, MP Ružica Vukovac (DP), said that there were problems on the ground, presenting an example in Donja Bačuga where it took three days for the competent services to save a herd of cattle, which, she said, showed that there was a problem in the chain of command.

Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković and state secretary Tugomir Majdak rejected this criticism, saying that they had been in the field constantly.

"That is not a realistic description. The cattle wasn't abandoned and there is no need to exaggerate the situation," Minister Vučković said.

She supported the suggestion that the majority of local products should be used in local kindergartens, schools, hospitals. "We are working on that, however, it is necessary to increase production in that area," she underscored. 

Projects valued at more than HRK 1 billion agreed to

Speaking about rural development measures, Vučković said that by 13 January projects valued at HRK 1.08 billion had been agreed to for Sisak-Moslavina County and that HRK 851 million had been paid out. HRK 137 million refers to social and utility infrastructure and HRK 67 million of that has been paid out.

Rural development measures for family-run farms valued at HRK 164 million have been agreed to for 81 projects and 29 projects valued at HRK 1.7 million have been agreed to for emergency aid due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 451 projects for the development of small farms, launching of non-farming activities and support to young farmers valued at HRK 80.3 million have also been agreed to, said Vučković and added that direct payments were accelerated and that to date HRK 93 million, which is usually paid as of 15 February, had already been paid out.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Globalisation Threatens Croatia's Produce and Cuisine Via New Seed Laws

January 15, 2021 – The EU is being backed into a corner by the giants of globalised agriculture. Pre-empting a change in EU-farming directives, a new bill before the Croatian parliament seeks to regulate seed use for the country's farmers, putting at risk Croatia's distinct, regional produce and the country's famous cuisine. TCN interviews one of those leading the fight for Croatia's produce and cuisine.

Question: When is a tomato not a tomato? Answer: When it is a Croatian tomato.

Confused? Well, if you're from Croatia and never much left the country or region, you might be. But, if you're from western Europe or America and you've enjoyed a visit to Croatia, you'll know exactly what this means. As will any Croats who have emigrated to supposedly more 'developed' parts of the world. Food just doesn't taste the same in those places.

tomatoes-1280859_1280.jpgThe efforts of small-scale producers, family afrmers and those preserving distinct, traditional crops help give Croatia's produce and cuisine its unique reputation and flavour

As TCN touched on in our recent feature about food prices in Croatia (and its impact on health), in the supermarkets of western Europe and in America, everything is available, all of the time. People live in a globalised marketplace where seasonal availability is meaningless when your country and its giant supermarket brands have the power to export from anywhere. But, though everything is always available in these supermarkets, not everything on display is what it seems to be.

In Dalmatia, they like to pride themselves on a generally very simple approach to cooking. Good olive oil, salt, maybe a dash of fresh lemon, garlic and parsley is all you need to make a meal sing. And the surprised, delighted faces of their customers tell them they are right. But, that's far from the full story. It is not the simple approach to seasoning, spicing and condiments alone that brings Dalmatian cuisine to life, it is the base ingredients themselves.

The blitva (chard) stewed in potato, that so easy yet unreproducible shredded cabbage salad, and the similarly simple tomato salad are spectacular to visitors because their main ingredients sing. They sing in way that vegetables bought in supermarkets in western Europe and America do not. They do so because, in Croatia, you can easily choose to eat locally grown, seasonal vegetables and fruits. And these taste a whole lot better than the industrially farmed products that line the shelves in other regions. That's why, in Croatia, a tomato still tastes like a tomato. Whereas a tomato from a supermarket elsewhere tastes like... nothing.

Countless unclassified regional varieties of vegetables and fruits, often grown by small-scale producers or on family farms (OPGs) help give Croatia's produce and cuisine this incredible reputation among visitors. But, as the multi-billion dollar, globalised industry of farming-without-season extends its grip around the world, it is the rights of these distinct farmers which is most at threat.

The European Union is attempting to change its laws and directives for the regulation of seed use within all member states. Pressured by the enormous powers of the global agricultural industry, and partially in an attempt to protect its farmers, it wishes to adopt new laws or regulations to replace extremely outdated earlier versions. Pre-empting this change, a law has been put before the Croatian parliament which seeks to regulate seed use in Croatia. It's a rather complicated piece of legislation and is currently only at the stage of proposal.

seedling-5009286_1920.jpgChanges to the laws of seed registration at a national and EU level, partly in response to the demands of the globalised agricultural industry, threaten Croatia's produce and cuisine

Monitoring the proposed changes are an army of environmental activists, small-scale producers, family farmers, gardeners and concerned citizens. Spearheaded by three organisations – The Croatian Organic Farmers Association, Life - an organisation of small scale farmers, and Bio-Garden, an organisation made up of gardeners and seed savers - a petition has this week been put before the Croatian parliament objecting to several elements of the proposed new legislation. Earning the support of some 77 Croatian organisations, including farming groups, cattle breeders, plant growers, a network of environmental organisations, permaculture initiatives, gardeners' organisations and even the Chamber of Agriculture, which includes all the farmers inside Croatia, the petitioning of parliament has galvanised many different people in its objection. They say that the proposed new legislation will remove the rights and freedoms of small scale producers and family farms to use their own seeds. This will radically affect Croatia's produce and cuisine.

It is doubtless that there is a worldwide trend, pushing everyone who grows towards buying seeds from globalised agricultural giants. And so, while the response from a broad group of those immediately concerned is impressive enough, awareness of the issue needs to extend much further. It should include every Dalmatian tavern owner and chef who delights a foreign visitor. It should include every single person in Croatia who buys food from a public marketplace. It should include everyone who takes pride in home cooking. It should include the entire tourism industry of Croatia and every visitor to Croatia who has ever enjoyed the food here. Because it is the very distinctive, authentic and traditional nature of Croatia's produce and cuisine that is at stake. Croatia is at real risk of losing the flavour of its food.

“Let me start 10, 000 years ago, when agriculture first started. That's when people learned how to save seeds,” explains Sunčana Pešak, a graduate of Zagreb University's Agriculture Faculty and a member of the three combined groups objecting to the proposed new law. “What these people learned was to save the seeds only from the best part of the harvest. That's what they would use to grow the next season. That's how farming always was. And, it's the way that we got all of the genetic diversity of all the grown foods we eat.”

1914733_1166724380395_4614368_n.jpgSunčana Pešak, a graduate of Zagreb University's Agriculture Faculty and a member of the three combined groups defending Croatia's produce and cuisine by objecting to the proposed new seed law

That way of saving seeds still exists. It's what all gardeners and small-scale farmers use. But, now there is something new – industrial farming. They have a different way of saving seeds. This involves a scientific approach to breeding and an industrial approach to growing and harvesting. This is problematic because only around 10 companies in the whole world own the rights to the scientifically manufactured seeds used on this scale of farming. They own the patent rights to the seeds they have created. And, they always want their profits from their seeds being used. These companies are the same ones who produce the chemicals used in industrial farming. They control most of the seed market all over the world.”

The current problems facing small-scale producers and family farmers, brought to a head by the proposed new law in Croatia, essentially come from a clash between industrial-level seed breeders, who control the global market and who demand royalties on their patented seeds, and farmers who just want to grow.

“The term 'Seed variety' itself is a commercial term,” explains Sunčana. “This is something that can be described and catalogued as distinct. All of the plants and their fruits needs to look the same to be identified as this variety. In this way, it can be marketed. But, for people who grow from their own indigenous seeds, in their own traditional ways, their crop is much more diverse.”

“For example, in Croatia, before seed breeding started, people just grew from their own seeds. They would exchange seeds among themselves and eventually each village had its own unique varieties of crops. You could go 20 minutes down the road and the carrots that were grown in the next village were completely different to the ones you grow in your own. Some of the carrots were big, some small, some looked weird, some took on a white colour because they mixed with the wild-growing varieties. Also, as a small producer, you might employ the use of a combination of seed. You plant it and when it grows you get completely different kinds of plants. People might have a winter mix and a summer mix. It ensures diversity in growing and in the diet. Even with grains, by planting a mixture you might ensure a harvest is more resistant to a pest or a weather intervention. One element of the proposed new law would prevent those kinds of mixtures being planted and we would lose completely the initiative and experience of farmers who do so.”

“They proposed new seed law seeks to regulate everything. The demands asked of small scale farmers under it are the same one asked of industrial-scale farmers – they are all placed on the same footing. If you want to use a seed of your own, you have to register those traditional varieties in a system that is currently undefined. Why? Just let people grow. It is their right.”

The groups objecting to the proposed new law in Croatia have found some allies in their fight. Small scale producers and the owners of family farms around the world have been battling against the monopolisation of the farming industry by a handful of globalised giants for many years. They are organised and have teams of lawyers working on their behalf. They have lent support to Croatia's collective of objectors in their fight, helping to point out that the new proposed law goes against the rights not only of EU citizens but against global human rights. "States shall recognize the rights of peasants to rely either on their own seeds or on other locally available seeds of their choice, and to decide on the crops and species that they wish to grow." says the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.

apple-1873078_1280.jpgTraditional farming and time-honoured seed varieties help make Croatia's produce and cuisine unique in Europe. Croatia currently stands strong against the pressure from globalised agriculture to accept GMO produce. Can it stand as strong against its demands for new registrations of seeds?

“The risk is huge,” says Sunčana, when asked what might happen to Croatia's produce and cuisine if the proposed new law passes without objection. “In just the last 100 years we lost 75% of our genetic biodiversity. That happened quite simply because people started buying seeds instead of saving them and then growing their own. All of the seeds that are now grown are quite alike. They take varieties that are proven to be the best, to grow to a maximum yield, to be resistant to pests and weather and which can grow successfully in all the different climates of the world. These are varieties that are standardised, well suited to industrial farming – they all ripen at exactly the same time, assisting mechanised harvesting. But, that logic does not always suit small scale farms, where you might need to grow from seeds whose plants reach maturity over an extended period. This gives you many weeks of opportunity to harvest and to sell on different market days.”

But, it isn't just a loss to the convenience of family farmers that would be enforced by the new law. Nor it is solely a matter of losing the tastes of traditional varieties of vegetables and fruits within Croatia's produce and cuisine. The loss to our collective health from this massive reduction in the variety of genetic biodiversity in our diet is currently unknown. Future effects could be catastrophic. Not only that, we could rapidly be losing crop varieties that might better adapt to the new conditions that will be imminently brought about by climate change.

“People with small farms already have enough trouble dealing with bureaucracy and administration. There's no way that all of Croatia's growers will go through the timely ordeal of registering every seed we have,” explains Sunčana, detailing another stipulation that lies within the proposed new change of law. If growers don't wish to register their own distinct varieties - which may have been preserved within their families or communities for generations, they always have the option of going to the National seed bank and taking from there, seeds that have already been registered. Unfortunately, only 27 such seeds exist within Croatia. And the seed bank can only supply such a small amount that it may take a small scale farm several years to build up the supply they need for their business.

The proposed new change of law in Croatia is extremely complicated, as will be the procedures and demands on growers if it passes. The change in seed regulation at an EU level could be similarly restrictive to non-industrial farmers and growers. But, though it is the Croatian government – and then the lawmakers of the EU – who will be addressed by the objections of farmers, growers, gardeners and biodiversity organisations, it is ultimately the profits of a small cabal of globalised and increasingly industrial agricultural/chemical giants which lie at the heart of the demand for change. They are a force of near incomparable strength.

On the surface, the issue of seed regulation might appear to really matter only to those who have a small to medium-sized business growing tomatoes or similar. But, the reality is that this issue concerns us all - everyone who puts a tomato on their fork, on their children's plate or on the table of an overseas visitor who will never forget the distinct flavour of Croatian food. It is the flavour of the future, and the reputation of Croatia's produce and cuisine, for which the fight is currently being made.

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