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The EBRD and FAO support Serbia's sour cherries

By Chris Booth

The EBRD is working with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation to introduce geographical indication status for food products in Serbia, starting with a unique cherry grown in the south of the country.

The cherry in question, the oblačinska višnja, is named after the village of Oblačina. Smaller and darker than other varieties, it is famed for its unique balance of sweet and sour, in part thanks to the local soil and climate.

The cherries are integral to local cuisine: turned into preserves, jams, juices and liqueurs, as well as being used in the production of yogurts and sweets.

They are grown by farmers such as Srbislav Milovanovic. For him and his family the first day of the harvest is always a busy one. And this year was no exception. It looked like a good crop, and he hopes to buy twice as much land for cultivation next year.

This will depend on what he can get for the fruit, though. And that is where geographical indication - protecting the cherries’ origin and heritage – could significantly help boost the value of his harvest.

Serbia is ranked seventh worldwide for sour cherry production with roughly nine million trees. But despite this impressive market share, primary production of the fruit continues to be the work of small-scale family farms, generally from old and low yielding cultivars, and with limited marketing.

Local farmers such as Mr Milovanovic and large-scale producers both recognize the need to change this state of affairs if they are to achieve greater market access.

FAO and the EBRD are working with Nectar, an EBRD client, and the leading juice drinks company in the Western Balkans, to develop origin-based labels that will differentiate Serbia’s fresh and processed fruit products. Facing the challenges of contemporary markets does not have to mean a loss of identity, or loss of tradition.

Instead, geographical indication can be a badge of quality, reassuring the consumer, and bringing producers and processors closer together.

The two-year FAO/EBRD project is in its early stages and is part of a larger initiative, enjoying donor financing from Luxembourg.

It builds upon prior experience in Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Georgia and other countries and is also working to facilitate dialogue between producers and the Serbian government.

And this is just the beginning. Achieving geographical indication status for sour cherries should prepare the way for developing GIs for more Serbian products in the future.

The EBRD and FAO have teamed up to help food producers in Serbia achieve Geographical Indication status, starting with sour cherries.

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