EU entry may hurt farmers

ZAGREB – Croatia’s agriculture industry is burdened by unresolved land ownership and small farms would need to merge or face extinction as the country aims for European Union standards, a leading agriculture expert said yesterday. Jasmina Havranek, dean of Zagreb University’s agriculture faculty, told Reuters in an interview that the country’s food production would benefit from EU membership, for which Zagreb applied last February, but its farming sector would need an overhaul. «EU countries have a long tradition of organized agriculture but we will be able to follow certain trends and set some ground rules,» she said. The main problems in the former Yugoslav republic of 4.4 million people were lack of education, slow privatization, poor organization of production and unclear land ownership. «It is absurd that we import milk though we could produce more than we need, and that so much arable land is neglected,» she said. Croatia has great potential for farming, which could also benefit its booming tourist industry, she added. The new problem, upon joining the EU, is that Croatia will be given quotas «for everything – vineyards, milk – and is up to us to deal with that,» she said. Ownership of farmland in Croatia is complicated due to inaccurate and often faulty registry books, remnants from the communist era when private ownership was uncommon. Large swathes of land were also taken by the State after 1945 and given to agricultural conglomerates. In most cases, previous owners are now claiming back the land in court. «I think a lot of problems will be solved when land ownership is recognized,» Havranek said. Merger or extinction The biggest stumbling block in talks with the EU would be small, family farms, which cannot meet EU standards of sanitation or control nor be competitive on the open market, Havranek said. She said the entire sector was still based on family farming. Several huge agricultural firms set up in socialist Yugoslavia have gone bankrupt because of the 1991-95 war or mismanagement. One solution for small farmers could be to merge or cooperate more closely with one other and other large agricultural firms. «(Small farmers) will not be able to survive on their own. We must ensure that they have a higher output and market. There will be problems and costs involved but we need to tackle this urgently and move from small farms to organized production,» Havranek said.

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