Among the collected works of recently completed pre-election stories about oil shales, jadarit minerals and gold bars in Serbian depths, a serious political work can be singled out - a "historic agreement on raspberries export." Although it started as a marketing act, it now turned into a kind of drama that will not leave anybody in Serbia indifferent. Those who grow raspberries just now realized that they had been fooled and citizens are going to face hot hours of waiting on the roads that raspberry farmers are planning to block. In short, there’s nothing new in the West (Serbia). Except maybe the position acquired by Dragisa Terzic, the author of this play, a former "champion of raspberry farmers’ rights," and today’s municipal official impossible to be reached.
In March this year, a president of the raspberry farmers union (and vice-president of the newly formed Movement of workers and farmers), Dragisa Terzic pompously signed a contract with the Austrian company (founded in February) CWS Best Food that has committed to purchase 50,000 tons of raspberries from cold storages at a price of 1.6 euros, of which the producers were entitled to 1.2 euros per kilogram.
"Only an irresponsible company will sign a contract in March for the purchase of almost entire raspberry crop without even knowing what will be the quality, what will be the price of competition, or how much fruit there will be. It was clear from the very beginning that it was all just a political marketing and that it was a frivolous and fictitious business ", says for our magazine Ivana Dulic Markovic, former Minister of Agriculture.
Terzic used this situation as an excuse to organize the "big folk festival" in Arilje which called on all farmers to sign contracts on the delivery of this year's crop in order to collect the agreed 50,000 tons. On the last parliamentary elections, citizens of Arilje "honored the movement of workers and farmers with six seats, so the party is now forming the majority together with the Serbian Progressive Party and the Movement for Arilje, while Terzic is taking the chair of the Arilje Assembly President and at the same announcing that the contract failed.
"Instead of 50,000 tons, the contracts were signed only for the purchase of 5,000 tons of raspberries, which is insufficient quantity to accomplish the business with Australians. Raspberry farmers did not believe the story about the Australians, because the various tycoons, as well as the political situation during the elections, treated it as a lie and people became suspicious," said Terzic in June. However, he never explained who would pay 1.21 euros per kilogram of raspberry to producers who signed contracts.
"Whoever thought about it, realized it was a lie and did not sign the contract. Why would any company buy raspberries now, if it has never done it before? They did not have even have the necessary crates," says in an interview with Novi magazin Dragan Bogdanovic, president of the raspberry association Vilamet.
Although they are divided, this year raspberry farmers got united regarding one aspect. They are demanding the agreed price of 1.26 euros per kilogram of the most important (as they naively believe) the export products of Serbia.
"The entire Arilje is covered with posters of out demands and we insist on agreed price of 1.26 euros per kilogram, and later on we will let the market set up the new price. The real price is 150 dinars, and if cold storages refuse to pay, we will expect the state to intervene and declare the raspberry a strategic product. The state must choose whether it needs the raspberries which bring the annual income of 180 million euros of foreign exchange earnings," says Bogdanovic.
Two years ago, the association demanded magic 20 dinars per kilogram subsidy from the state. Due to the same demands and several days long protests, last year the state had to mediate between cold storages and farmers to agree on the price. Subsidies (which were not approved) cost about 16 million of taxpayers' money, so now it will take just as much of our money to satisfy the appetites of the farmers. However, it will not happen.
"Subsidization of raspberry production, in which our country has traditionally been a world leader in production and exporting, is not budgeted. Limited public funds are directed towards the improvement of crop production, livestock, increasing the area under irrigation and structural reforms in agriculture aimed at improving the competitiveness of agriculture as a whole,” says Milos Milovanovic, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, answering our question whether the Ministry will meet the requirements of raspberry farmers and does it even have such an obligation.
"It is true that our raspberry is of a good quality, but the breed is degenerated. It has been used for more than 30 years, there are no new seedlings from the Institute, no nursery gardens, no new varieties. And most important - raspberries cannot be a compensation for the unemployed in all failed companies in Serbia, because they all think they can grow raspberries and earn big money. Simply put, the expectations about the price are unrealistic," says an expert of market opportunities.
At the same time, Serbia is suffering a strong competitive pressure, especially from Poland, which last year produced 110,000 tons and for the first time seriously surpassed Serbia which the year before accounted for 25 percent in world production. The production in Chile also reached a record 60,000 tons. The plantations in Serbia harvested about 90,000 tons, and the purchase price after several days of negotiations between raspberry farmers and cold storages barely made it to one euro per kilo, which is really the lowest purchase price over the last few years.
"There was a lot of raspberries in stock and they just couldn’t be sold at an appropriate price. Last year we sold raspberries in Europe for 1.3 euros, even for 1.15 euros. It is impossible get more than what we already got. There are too many cold storages that bring down their price just to make the sale” says our source. According to him, our colleagues from Chile paid the farmers the lowest price of one euro, while Europeans were not able to get these same raspberries for less than 1.6 euros.
"They have a place to keep supplies, they have the support of the state and fair competition," says our source.
It's not all. Poles and Chileans harvested from 10 to 12 tons per hectare from their plantations, and Serbian barely six tons.
"The production and trade engaged over 50,000 people. The annual harvest is between 70,000 and 90,000 tons, and export income goes up to $ 200 million. So, this is serious business that we started in the eighties and have not achieved anything new since then. There is no improvement in technology, the storage mode and the productivity is disastrous in comparison to the competition," says for our magazine Vojislav Stankovic, advisor of Serbian Chamber of Commerce, adding that Serbia mostly exports frozen raspberries, unlike competitors who make jams, juices and lately even dried raspberries which have a huge demand in Europe.
The reasons for the chronic dissatisfaction of those involved in the chain of production, processing and export of raspberries, Stankovic explains with too many profiteers who are trying make big money from the raspberries with little effort and no knowledge. Playing "a raspberry messiah", former self-proclaimed raspberry leader Dragisa Terzic, "earned" his new position and there is still time to make money. After all, his office term lasts four years.
"Instead of making unions and organizing direct export, we have a large number of intermediaries, exporters, cold storages, associations, and they all want to make profit on the price. Because it's not realistic, they ask the state to subsidizes their deficits, which is also out of mind. If we reduced the number of intermediaries, introduced new technologies and increased productivity, we might have a competitive product. In this way, raspberries are not the first Serbian export product and will not be any stronger than the competition," Stankovic said openly.
Ivana Dulic Markovic agrees that the state should not pay subsidies for anything, not even for raspberries, but it can and needs to do something. “It can support investments in new technologies of production and processing of raspberries and a system of certification of planting material. It needs to enable the introduction of new varieties and urgently establish a system of national laboratory, which would have the capacity to control pesticide residue and especially the presence of Calici virus", says Dulic Markovic.