07 December, 2018
Montenegrin fruit and vegetable growers touring Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in September saw how modernizing and diversifying production, improving quality standards and working together could give them a competitive edge.
The group visited leading nurseries, cooperatives, associations, equipment producers and processors in both countries.
The study tour was part of a larger initiative by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), along with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to strengthen Montenegro’s fruit and vegetable supply chain and link small-scale producers to high-value markets.
Andrija Delić, a Montenegrin raspberry producer, was impressed by the modern production techniques and technologies he saw – from effective pruning and pest management practices to an innovative trellising system that protects fruit from birds and provides shade.
He was also inspired by the cooperative system. “This trip has opened our eyes to the importance of becoming better organized. That is our future,” he said.
Like Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro has good conditions for growing fruits and vegetables, and domestic demand is expected to rise, especially for fruits and wine.
But most of the country’s small-scale farmers struggle to reliably supply processors and retailers with good quality produce and to reduce post-harvest losses, which for fruit and vegetables are estimated to be as high as 30-40 percent.
Cooperatives though, could help to remedy this. In Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina they provide numerous benefits to their members, from access to credit, inputs and technical and advisory services, to entry into new markets and higher profits.
The BIOS cooperative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, has a cooling facility and buys fresh fruits and vegetables from its members, which it then resells to the green market and local restaurants.
With stiff competition from mass berry producers in other countries, such as Ukraine, the cooperative “Insieme” in Bosnia and Herzegovina has branched out from frozen berries to produce high-quality berry jams and juices.
It has developed a certified organic line and is using attractive packaging and quality labels to give its products an edge on the market.
The cooperative also created a full traceability system and complies with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and International Food Standard certification. While it exports most of its products to Italy, it also recently sent trial shipments to the Middle East.
Inspired by the study tour, Montenegrin fruit producer Amar Muratovic, who grows plums, pears, apples and raspberries, plans to modernize his production, better equip his storage facilities and expand his range of products.
“Consumers have been very satisfied with the quality of the jams and juices I’ve been producing on a trial basis. I want to focus more on organic agriculture,” he said.
FAO economist Lisa Paglietti echoed the importance for Montenegrin producers to add value to their products, while also exploring niche markets where they can have a competitive advantage.
“There are many raspberry producers in the region, so it could be profitable for some Montenegrins to shift to blueberries. The market for blueberries is growing worldwide, prices are more competitive and the market is less volatile because people who can afford to will continue to buy them for their health benefits,” she said.
A recent EBRD-FAO workshop in Montenegro on improving linkages between farmers and retailers built on the lessons from the study tour, including the importance of collective action and food safety and quality standards.
“Greater cooperation among Montenegro’s fruit and vegetable producers and investments in modernizing operations and upgrading quality would go a long way toward making the industry more efficient and profitable,” said Nemanja Grgic, Principal, Agribusiness Advisory at the EBRD.
Amar Muratovic added that it’s clear Montenegrin agricultural producers need to form producer organizations to become a competitive force because “we cannot survive if we don’t work together.”
As part of another EBRD-FAO project in the country, to strengthen linkages between agriculture and tourism, last month a workshop in Podgorica centred on defining a long-term strategy to better link smallholders to hotels and restaurants.
For useful information, please visit the project page here.
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