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News 21 Jul 17

Serbia May Give Youngsters Land To Revive Countryside

Serbia is considering giving away land to young couples to counter the rural depopulation afflicting most Balkan countries - which a Serbian minister has called 'a threat to national security'.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Minister Milan Krkobabic. Photo: Sasa Djordjevic/Beta

Serbia’s Minister of Regional Development, Milan Krkobabic, said the government is considering giving away parcels of land of 25 to 50 hectares to young, married couples in order to revive fast-emptying rural communities.

"The new concept of agrarian policy and regional development is a long-term mission to remove the key threat to national security, which is the depopulation of rural regions," Krkobabic said.

He added that the depopulation of whole villages was a real threat and that Serbia’s problem was not entering the EU, but "re-entering our own country".

Like many other countries in the region and in Eastern Europe, the birth rate in Serbia has long been negative. The population fell by around 385,000 in the decade from 2006 to 2016, prompting some politicians and media to express fears about "Serbs dying out".

However, an agricultural economist, Milan Prostran, said giving away land to newlyweds who have no equipment or knowledge of farming was "not entirely rational" as a response.

"If you give a young married couple five or 20 hectares without a plough or anything else, what are they supposed to do with it?" Prostran asked.

Speaking of Krkobabic’s initiative, Prostran says that similar policies have been tried in the past.

King Aleksandar of Yugoslavia gave war veterans from World War I five hectares of land each to support themselves, and after the communist takeover in 1945, Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito did the same for some World War II fighters.

However, the birthrate was far higher back then, when far more people also had direct knowledge of farming.

Prostran believes the land would be better given to small farmers, who already have the equipment and the know-how, but need help to compete with farmers from the EU.

"They should be given up to 20 hectares of land to work. The average farm size in the EU is around 21-22 hectares," Prostran noted.

Minister Krkobabic, on the other hand, believes that young people will stay in rural areas if the state creates the right conditions for them.

He announced that the national budget for next year will provide the means to kick-start regional development, "according to the times we live in and the population drain".

"Our key task is to keep young people in the countryside and bring back those who left in search of a job," Krkobabic said.

Note: This article was amended on July 24 to correct measurements in square metres to hectares.

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