Joint Work on Empowering Farmers throughout Serbia

Representatives of the Ana and Vlada Divac Foundation and the USAID-funded "Big Small Business" project hosted over 50 representatives of local self-governments, regional development agencies and agricultural schools in the Đura Jakšić Gallery in Kragujevac today as part of regional meetings, in order to mark the achieved results of additional joint activities aimed at empowering farmers.

Since 2020, when the first one was established, over 280 farmers in 16 municipalities in Serbia have been supported by the Local Funds for the Promotion of Agricultural Development, with a total value of over 75 million dinars. Also, through the Funds for the Empowerment of Young Farmers, so far over 70 students of agricultural schools in Svilajnac and Požega have received donations in the form of funds for work, with a total value of over 12 million dinars.

Local funds for the promotion of agricultural development are an innovative mechanism for financing farmers through the joint investment of local governments and the Foundation with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and in cooperation with regional development agencies that manage the funds of the fund. These are interest-free loans, which users are obliged to repay within a period of three years, so that they can be used later by other producers.

"We are extremely pleased that today, together with our partners, we are sharing the great results that we have achieved within the projects for the empowerment of agriculture and young farmers and that this unique mechanism, which we established four years ago with USAID, has shown success in self-sustainability. I am glad that our partners from local self-governments have recognized the necessity of this kind of financial support and that they support an increasing number of their farmers from year to year. In the next three years, we plan to establish 7 more such funds throughout the country, through which we will empower an even greater number of farmers," said Ana Košel, director of the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation, inviting other municipalities to join them in supporting farmers in Serbia.

From 2022, the activities of the Fund are supported by the Project "Big Small Business" funded by USAID and implemented by ACDI/VOCA.

"Small farmers are invisible to financial institutions, even for small loans, and it is extremely important that they get funds quickly, to take advantage of the season. This is the best thing about these funds because they solve the very specific needs of farmers, the process is simple and transparent, and the municipalities have an excellent mechanism to direct their funds in a focused manner and for the fund to grow. The fact that the number of cities and municipalities that join is constantly increasing is proof that we have all done an excellent job together," said Aleksandar Pavlović, director of the Big Small Business Project (USAID).

Funds for encouraging the development of agriculture and food production in cooperation with local governments and regional development agencies, from 2020 the Funds were launched in Čajetina, Vranje, Prijepolje, Svrljig, Ražanj, Užice, Dimitrovgrad, Brus, Veliko Gradište, Novi Pazar, Vlasotince, Nova Crnja, Velika Plana, Aranđelovac, Sečanj and Golubac.

“We try to choose approaches that are not only focused on giving, but also create additional value. What is good about this mechanism is that it is implemented quickly, farmers do not wait for funds, and the money has to be paid back, which gives us sustainability. The special value of these funds is that municipalities and development agencies receive a methodology for implementation, which is often more important than financial resources,” said Nenad Popović, director of the Regional Agency for Economic Development of Šumadija and Pomoravlje.

“The fund is currently in its third cycle and has 7 million dinars. Our goal is to add 2 million every year, so that the fund becomes self-sustaining, after which it would be possible for one farm to use up to a million dinars. In this way, small agricultural farms would grow into large agricultural producers. “said Dragan Mančev member of the municipal council for agriculture of the municipality of Dimitrovgrad.

In order to particularly motivate young people to see their perspective in the countryside and be successful, the Funds for the Empowerment of Young Farmers, intended for students in the final grades of secondary agricultural schools, were launched. Until now, donations have supported students from agricultural schools in Svilajnec and Požega, which are also attended by students from Užice, Gornji Milanovac, Čajetina, Arilje, Prijepolje and Nova Varoš.

In addition to financial support, all candidates attend lectures, received support from mentors, advice on production development and develop a business plan, which will be useful later when applying for other competitions. So far, about 200 young people have gone through this education, and two more agricultural schools are expected to join in the coming period.

“In 2022, the City of Užice, the Ana and Vlade Divac Foundation and the Regional Development Agency established the Fund for Incentives for the Development of Agriculture on the territory of the City of Užice, the funds of which are intended for farmers engaged in food production and processing, investments in rural tourist households and handicrafts in rural areas. In two years of work, 37 farms have been supported, and for this year there are already about 15 farms interested. The plan is to continue the creation of the fund by the municipality in the following years, until it becomes self-sustaining," said Miroljub Branković from the Department of Agriculture in the city of Užice.

"The project enabled livestock farmers of the municipality of Vlasotince to improve their business by providing incentive funds, which increased their livestock, production and capacities, which enabled them to become more competitive on the market. This support contributes to the development of the local community by increasing local income and keeping the population in underdeveloped areas such as the municipality of Vlasotince. Such funds are still very important, because they are aimed at a group of small farmers who were previously invisible", said Dragana Belenzada, director of the Center for Development of the Jablanica-Pčinja District.

The first regional agricultural meetings ended with the conclusion that the main factor in empowering farmers is good cooperation between the public and civil sectors and constant listening to the needs of farmers.

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