FAO-EBRD conference in Belgrade to promote food quality

By Viktorija Melohina

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are holding a conference in Belgrade on 10 March 2014 to promote food quality. The event, entitled “How to add value to your products?”, will also see the launch of two joint FAO-EBRD food chain projects. Participants at the conference, which is supported by the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, will include food producers as well as representatives of the government of Serbia, FAO and the EBRD.

The projects, like the high-level conference, are financed by the government of Luxembourg and will deal with origin-based labels for local fruit, and quality and safety standards in the meat sector. This will benefit local consumers by increasing the quality of locally-produced food. In addition, these projects will create export opportunities for local producers through clearer labelling and certification.

The first project focuses on improving food quality and safety standards in the meat sector. It aims to facilitate exports and develop a privately-run meat-quality labelling system that will be used in Serbia and internationally. The project will build capacity and transfer skills to both local Serbian producers and governmental agencies involved in the assignment.

The second project is focused on the horticultural sector and will build on the expertise of FAO and the EBRD in the development of geographical indicators (GIs). Among the potential GIs identified is the oblačinska višnja (sour cherry). A group of sour cherry producers will be trained and assisted through the registration process based on geographical area of origin. GI-awarded products, such as mandarins from the Neretva Valley in Croatia, have won recognition for their high quality in other countries where the EBRD works.

“As Serbia formally starts its EU accession negotiations, issues of food quality and safety are becoming ever more important for the development of our agri-food sector so we can meet EU and WTO standards and access a wider market,” said Dragan Glamočić, Serbia’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management.

Agriculture contributes approximately 10 per cent to Serbia’s GDP. It accounts for more than 20 per cent of employment and 24 per cent of the country’s exports. Due to agriculture’s importance for Serbi, FAO and the EBRD have joined forces with the government to assist in the development of quality labels for the horticultural and meat sectors.

One of the main goals of the EBRD in Serbia over the next four years will be to enhance the role and competitiveness of the private sector, with an added focus on the agribusiness value chain.

“Given the EBRD's strong relations with producers and processors in the meat and horticultural subsectors, the Bank is ready to engage, alongside the industry, to improve food quality,” stressed Matteo Patrone, EBRD Director, Serbia.

Moreover, the Bank will focus on improving access to finance. This will be achieved through financing and risk sharing instruments to commercial banks for on-lending to farmers and MSMEs involved in the agricultural sector.

“The experience of the EBRD and FAO with food quality labels in Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia and other countries has demonstrated that synergies between the authorities, small producers and larger agribusinesses are key to raising standards,” added EBRD Senior Banker Miljan Zdrale, Head of Agribusiness for CESEE. “Engaging a diverse group with complementary strengths opens the potential for change and improves consumer awareness.”

Conference participants will have the opportunity to learn about existing strategies and best practices for adding value to products. Discussion of major trends and quality issues in the meat and horticultural sectors will enable participants to understand how traditional products can meet voluntary standards while increasing consumer recognition of quality. The roles of various stakeholders in the value-adding process will be examined by means of regional experience and case studies.

This last point will be of particular interest to local project partners Carnex, Foodland and Nectar. These firms will benefit from lessons learned and past experiences in the region and will thus be able to help their smaller suppliers upgrade their standards. A case study emphasising best practices in public-private cooperation will be presented. It will use the example of an FAO-EBRD project on GIs in Croatia that resulted in the registration of mandarins from the Neretva valley and kulen sausage from Baranja with the support of EBRD client Agrokor. Such regional knowledge-sharing is a fundamental part of FAO and EBRD activities in their areas of operation.