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Bulgaria is producing fewer and fewer fruit and vegetables

Photo: Архив
In the 19th century the Bulgarian vegetable and fruit growers who moved upwards along the course of the Danube taught the people in its central part how to grow fruit and vegetables. As far as fruit and vegetables are concerned, Bulgaria is blessed, for it has favourable climate, fertile soil, old traditions and local sorts boasting taste characteristics that are rarely to be found elswehere. Unfortunately, nowadays Bulgaria’s fruit and vegetable farming suffers a decline. The social and economic jolts in Bulgaria after the fall of the Berlin Wall demolished this age-old means of living. Scarce and small-scaled, without state funding and a capital of its own, Bulgarian vegetable and fruit farming has entered the EU’s free market at a disadvantage. Plamen Dimitrov, executive director of the Bulgarian Greenhouse Association (BGA) brings us more:

“In 1989 the areas planted with vegetables in Bulgaria were some 170 000 ha while in 2006 they were only 70 000 ha. In the same vein, in 1989 the areas growing fruit were 112 000 ha while in 2006 they were 37 000 ha”, Mr Dimitrov said.

The negative trend seems to be lasting and irreversible. In the last 10 years the production of vegetables has decreased 60% and the production of fruit has dropped 10 times. From a big exporter of fruit and vegetables only a few decades ago Bulgaria has now turned into an earnest importer. The country’s home production cannot meet indeed half of the demand on the domestic market. According to Prof Slavova from the Institute of Agricultural Economics, 43% of the tomatoes on the market are imported and so are 52% of the peppers, 70% of the onion, etc.

We will skip the historical reasons for this collapse and focus on the setbacks for the development of Bulgarian fruit and vegetable growing today. Some very serious problems are the country’s gray economy and illegal import. According to experts, up to 85% of the deals with fruit and vegetables are carried out without a sales contract. An even more pressing issue is the illegal import mostly from states outside the EU, such as Turkey, Macedonia and some Asian countries. Bulgarian producers insist on the government taking urgent and radical measures for cutting these two types of illegal practices.
You might ask whether this industry has recovered after Bulgaria’s accession to the EU and the Common Agricultural Policy funds. The answer is “no”, for there is an internal problem.
“It has turned out that the fruit and vegetable sectors are most deprived of the EU funding”, Mariyana Miltenova, secretary of the National Gardening Association explains. “The funds’ relative share in the production cost of wheat per ha equals 20.5%, while this figure is a mere 1.6% in tomato production costs and 4.4 % in apple production ones. It becomes clear that the EU funds cannot cover Bulgaria’s fruit and vegetable production. This is one reason why a lot of horticulturalists are now turning to grain production”, Ms Miltenova said.

The trade unions in the sector insist on the Bulgarian authorities' distributing more evenly the European funds. They would like to receive a more significant share of the funds earmarked for the modernization of agriculture within the framework of the Agricultural and Rural Development Operational Programme. Among all approved projects under the programme a mere 1.4% goes to the production of vegetables and 2.4 % is allotted to perennials. “We bought tractors and reaping machines that will be enough to harvest 4 countries like Bulgaria and yet not a single euro was spent on any fruit or vegetable growing technology”, Plamen Sapunjiev, President of BGA, says bitterly. The demanded changes, which have been supported by Bulgaria’s Agriculture Ministry so far, will be realized only with the coming of the new EU budget period 2014-2020.

English version: Vyara Popova

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