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News 29 Jan 18

Organic Farming Booms in Bulgaria and Croatia

The two countries have seen the highest rate of expansion in their organic farming sectors in the whole of the EU in recent years.

Bucharest, Sofia, Zagreb
The two Balna contries have achieved triple-digit growth of their organic farming sectors in the recent years. Photo: Pixabay

Bulgaria and Croatia are the EU member states with highest growing organic farming sectors in the 28-nation bloc, the latest data from the European Statistics Agency, Eurostat, show.

While the total area of organic production in the EU-28 from 2012 to 2016 grew by 18.7 per cent, in Bulgaria, the growth rate was over 310 per cent, and in Croatia it was 193.4 per cent.

The two states also hold the largest shares of areas of land under conversion to fully organic land, which, according to EU data, shows the potential for growth in the organic sector.

In Bulgaria, this share is 77.5 per cent of all organic lands; in Croatia, it was nearly 69 per cent.

Despite these record growth rates, however, organic farmers in both countries still face challenges compared to their competitors in the older EU member states.

Albena Simeonova, president of Bulgaria’s Association of Bioproducers, says organic farming in Bulgaria has boomed in the recent years.

“In 2009, when we created the association, we were 25 people. Now, the number of registered organic producers is between 7,100 and 7,200 in Bulgaria,” she said.

At the same time, Simeonova acknowledged that thousands of those people are just owners of meadows that in reality have no production, which distorts the data.

“The state has allowed funding of farmers who do not produce anything,” she admitted.

This has limited the amount of funding available for genuine producers, which makes them less competitive against both conventional farmers in Bulgaria and organic producers in the rest of Europe.

“If I collect 300 to 400 kilograms of grapes … our colleagues collect a ton. We will be totally uncompetitive unless we receive payments,” Simeonova explained, meaning subsidies.

She agreed, however, that interest in consuming organic products in Bulgaria is growing, albeit mainly younger, better educated people in the cities.

“People care more and more about what they put on the table,” she said.

According to her, there are many myths about the supposedly high prices of organic produce.

“We want fair trade. I want to ask Bulgarian consumers to choose Bulgarian produce because it is healthy, clean – and creates jobs,” she said.

In wealthier Croatia, where the average monthly salary is about 800 euros, the relatively higher price of organic produce in comparison to conventional produce does not seem to worry shoppers.

Croatia had 4,751 certified organic producers in 2017, which was 20 per cent more than the year before.

“There is much more demand now for such food than there is us [producers], or the food,” Snjezana Zidanic-MIhaljevic, a producer of organically grown vegetables from the village of Scitarjevo, close to Zagreb, told BIRN.

“Speaking of the volume of my trade, I am doing well, I am satisfied. Since Zagreb is one big market, I have many clients,” she said.

Zidanic-Mihaljevic said she has been growing vegetables for 21 years, and turned to organic food some six years ago.

She made the changeover when she had a son, and decided that every “bad thing she throws into the soil will affect him”.

But she admits that some farmers mislead their clients, saying that their food is produced according to the standards set for organic food, when, in fact, they have no certificates to prove it.

Not all Balkan states are joining the organic food trend, meanwhile.

In Romania, the total share of organically farmed area dropped by over 20 per cent between 2012 and 2016.

The Romanian Ministry of Agriculture said there were over 10,000 accredited organic farms in 2016, cultivating about 225,000 hectares in the country.

Organic farming started developing in the country after 2010 and by 2012 there were over 25,000 ecological farms in Romania.

But only some 12,000 were registered by 2015, and the next year the number had dropped to about 10,000.

Organic farmers say this is because the government lowered the subsidies for organic farming, from 1,500 euros per hectare in 2010-2012, to some 200 to 300 euros per farm now.

This has discouraged entrepreneurs who face costs that are 30 to 40 per cent higher.

A farmer from Prahova County, north of the capital Bucharest, said Romanians are not great consumers of organic products because they are usually more expensive – and most people cannot afford the luxury of spending a lot of cash on healthy food.

“I export most of my vegetables, about two-thirds of them to Italy,” he told BIRN. 

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