Processors and traders from Western and Eastern Europe are increasingly looking for organic raw materials abroad. Croatia – an official candidate for EU membership since June 2004 – is considered a potential supplier of organic raw material in the medium term. In 2006, 5,000 hectares in total were being organically managed by 340 registered farms.
This accounts for approximately 0.6% of the arable land in Croatia. The most important crops are cereals (wheat and corn), followed by grasses, herbs, fruits, vine and olives. In addition, there are some 17,000 hectares of so-called organic bee pasture; this certification is unique throughout the world. These areas do not include the collection of wild plants such as herbs, wild berries and mushrooms, which plays a relatively big role in all Balkan states.
In 2002, organic enterprises were registered at the national level for the first time. In the same year, the first national organic regulations were enacted following the EU Organic Regulation 2092/91 and international standards from the IFOAM. There is also a national logo for organic products now.
Six certification bodies are accredited by the ministry. They inspect production for the domestic market according to the Croatian standard HRN EN 45004. The system, however, does not correspond completely with EU regulations meaning that Croatia is not listed on the so-called third country list. As a result, all products imported into an EU country have partly to be controlled additionally by an EU-accredited certification body. According to the new import regulations valid since January 2007, this could also be Croatian certification bodies accredited as equivalent. Subsequently, traders wanting to export organic products from Croatia have to start the planning process early.
The majority of small Croatian organic farms are semi-subsistence farms. They produce for their own needs and sell whatever surplus remains – mainly fresh or little processed goods (e.g. pickled vegetables) – directly on the farm or at weekly markets. In addition to cucumbers and paprika processing enterprises there are two vineyards producing organic wines, several organic olive oil producers and a few farms producing goat milk. Furthermore, raw products from organic agriculture are used to make healthy baby food. Six years have passed since German baby food producer Hipp established a production site in Croatia.
Because of the more difficult export conditions and small production quantities, only a few Croatian organic products have made their way onto the EU market, mainly herbs, berries and nuts. On the other hand, Croatian shops sell a lot of organic products from other European countries. Croatian consumers can already find a wide range of organic products from other countries in local health food shops and some supermarkets but only a few locally produced items. According to the local food sector, Croatian consumers are increasingly interested in organic products. Therefore, they represent a growing market similar to Slovenia and the Czech Republic that is probably going to develop quickly.
So what can stores do to get the requested organic raw products and thus be able to satisfy the increasing demand?
Supporting the development of cooperative agricultural production in certain regions, especially by means of an intensive counselling concerning production techniques and quality management would be one economically sensible but long-term and work intensive investment solution for processing companies. Such projects are not only socially sustainable and contribute to an improved standard of living in rural areas but are economically promising, too. The processor and the involved farmers start a long-term cooperation with attractive raw material prices for both partners.
But the protagonists need staying power and continuity and there are additional costs coming up due to expenditures on educating farmers. However, these projects have already proven to be sound, as shown by the example of organic feta cheese from Romania as well as countless fair trade projects. Products to be focused on for the export could be, for example, wine, herbs and speciality cheeses. Of special interest for the EU market would be organic honey production and certified wild berries, mushrooms and herbs, as is already the case in Romania.
Enterprises with interest in investing in Croatia are possibly given the opportunity of up to 50% co-financing through SAPARD development funds, which are designed to finance structural support for EU accession countries. Besides the expansion of infrastructure, they can support the construction of processing plants in rural areas, thus creating new jobs in the future. http://www.ekoconnect.org