Ever since it was founded in 2007, the USAID Agribusiness Project has provided technical assistance to hundreds of companies, training in business plan writing for 300 women from rural areas, and support to the sale of USD 116 million worth of agricultural products from Serbia.
One of the results of the Project is the formation of eight associations of producers that helped small companies enter the market. Since they are now entering the final year of implementation, USAID Agribusiness Project Director Louis Faoro speaks in an interview for eKapija about plans for the following period, the sectors in which the US money will be invested, and what Serbia can do in the area or organic production.
eKapija: When you launched the Agribusiness Project in 2007, you decided to back the development in six agricultural sectors (growing of berry-like fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, production of herbs and spices, dairy production, and cattle breeding). Do you think today, after four years of experience in the field, that some other agricultural sectors deserve your aid more?
- I believe that the choice was good and that these sectors today can significantly contribute to further development of entire agriculture, but there are still some problems that need to be solved. The Agribusiness Project every year revises and verifies the goals set in given sectors in order for planned activities to respond to challenges in each sector in the right way. We also considered providing support to viticulture and honey producers, but we stayed within the frameworks of aforementioned sectors that, in our opinion, have a significant potential and require assistance.
eKapija: You've said recently that Serbia has to do much more to develop organic production and use its potential. In your opinion, what is the most important thing we should do in the field of organic production?
- Organic food production in Serbia is still quite limited. However, development potentials are huge. It is necessary to improve the overall organization and coordination of this sector, as well as further development of the existing national association of organic food producers.
Organic certification and production in Serbia are still unavailable to many small agricultural producers because of large expenses. It is necessary to create and offer small producers a more efficient and cheaper process of organic certification.
Serbia should also work actively on an organized promotion of organic products from the country in target markets abroad in order to boost exports while developing the production.
eKapija: What are your plans for the following period? Which new projects can we expect from the Agribusiness Project?
- In 2012 the Agribusiness Project will continue to help Serbian food companies market their products abroad by enabling them to participate in trade fairs such as Fruit Logistica in Berlin, BIOFACH in Nurnberg, and MIHAS in Kuala Lumpur.
Over the next few months we will also keep providing a financial aid for the application of international standards in the field of food safety and quality. Companies interested in this type of aid can apply until the end of March 2012.
We are also preparing a new round of trainings for women. These trainings are aimed at promoting entreprenership among women who live in rural areas of Serbia, encouraging them to take active part in the improvement of their economic position through self-employment in the agribusiness sector. A general aim of this activity is to allow for more active participation of women in agribusiness, as well as to create new jobs.
eKapija: Are you satisfied with the cooperation with the local and government institutions in Serbia that took part in your earlier projects?
- We are very satisfied with our cooperation with government institutions, the Ministry of Agriculture in particular. We have been cooperating with that ministry in the domain of legal reform, establishment of a public warehouse system and a system of market information, numerous educations, participation in trade fairs, promotion of the EU's pre-accession funds, etc. Local self-governments have taken active part in supporting women's entrepreneurship and financed a number of business plans, and they were definitely an active partner in the organization of various trainings. Further support to the agricultural sector should certainly be a common aim of all of us.
eKapija: How informed are agricultural producers about everything, especially about grants and trainings offered by you?
- We are doing our best to provide as much information on our activities as possible through a very close cooperation with the media, which have so far shown strong interest in our work. The media are essential for communicating important information to end-users, especially with the aim of promoting the examples of good practice in agribusiness. Also, in cooperation with local partners such as regional chambers of commerce, we organize presentations about our activities and possible forms of cooperation with local firms. The Project has its offices in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Cacak, Nis, Novi Pazar, and Vranje.
eKapija: It seems that you've covered all target groups by educating and promoting women in agribusiness and by rewarding young people for making a business plan in that field. Which target groups will be affected the most by your future projects?
- Our target groups will remain manufacturers, processing companies, associations, organizations and cooperatives operating in the six sectors we have already mentioned. The Project will continue to cooperate with SMEs wishing to further improve production, processing and exports. We will also resume a special program of non-refundable aid, which was launched in 2010, in order to satisfy the growing needs of business-oriented domestic associations and organizations in agribusiness. The program helps such associations to deal with issues in the spheres of marketing and promotion, organizational and management capacities. So far, eight associations have used the funds from this program. Among the national organizations we are working with are: Serbia Organica, Srbo Flora, Plodovi Srbije, Srpska Borovnica, etc.
eKapija: What are your forecasts for the prices of food in the world?
- I believe it is most likely that the prices of food will continue to grow, primarily for the reason of increasing demand for food in emerging markets and population growth, as well as because of growing tendencies in biofuel production, which will additionally boost the demand for food.