The overall finding from this evaluation is that the F&B Programme has managed to mitigate and deal effectively with serious assumptions/risk factors along the implementation of the programme and thereby achieve short-term production, income and employment results in line with or even above the expectations. However, from a sustainability perspective, it is a concern that the programme has not managed to introduce a solid base/model for local extension and advisory services to replace the current use of local consultant, contracted through the programme. The contracting of a network of local consultants was considered the best option at the time, but will not be a sustainable solution. Likewise, the limited progress made on associating/grouping of farmers, on strategic market development and the further need for trust building between farmers and government institutions as well as on ensuring access to finance for young and small farmers, constitute some important challenges for the medium to long-term impact from the programme interventions.
More specifically, the F&B Programme interventions have been successful within the following areas:
- The F&B Programme has successfully targeted the key sector for economic development in South Serbia. The importance of income from F&B production for the farmers in the region is very high and there is a large potential for further expansion of the F&B production in the region.
- The short-term production and income effect from the F&B Programme interventions has been significant. In particular, the productions of raspberry, cherries and plums have been boosted during the period. The production increases are expected to continue at least over the coming years because of a massive planting of new plants on new (rented) land.
- The production increases in the F&B sector have generated significant employment, in particular part-time (seasonal) employment. The large majority of the new part-time jobs are female jobs.
- There are strong indications that the F&B Programme support has contributed to a significant increase in export volumes within an already important export sector in Serbia.
- Through perseverance, the F&B Programme has gradually achieved to increase the involvement of the MoA in planning and implementation of F&B Programme activities and to build up key capacities within governmental institutions. In particular the Directorate for Agrarian Payment has been through a valuable learning process before its future handling of IPARD grants.
- A momentum of increased confidence and opportunities has been established among thousands of small F&B producers in the region for commercial F&B production.
- More environmental-friendly production techniques (e.g. in relation to use of fertilizers and chemicals) have been adopted by the large majority of the supported F&B farmers in the region. The strong emphasis from the F&B programme on these aspects have contributed to these improvements together with a more proactive approach from input suppliers and some larger buyers in the region who have discovered the benefits from assisting the farmers more directly with advice and supplies.
The F&B Programme interventions have been less successful within the following areas:
- Engagement of municipalities and local extension services in programme implementation. Despite strong efforts from the F&B Programme to engage the extension services in all activities of the programme, a dysfunctional structure of the offices yielded limited results, which forced the F&B Programme to also use alternative methods to provide the necessary support to the beneficiaries. As a result, local consultants were hired in to fill in this gap. The relatively short time for implementation of F&B Programme, forced the programme to find a quick solution for reaching the programme targets. This has been effective in the short term, demonstrated through the grant process and increases in production, income and employment). It is however not seen as a sustainable solution and may create important gaps after completion of the F&B Programme.
It should be mentioned though that in the case of the local consultants retained by the F&B Programme, the programme worked closely with each municipality in the hiring of the local consultants. In one case, the F&B programme reached agreement with a municipality to provide both office space and general support to the local consultant. In this way this consultant functioned as de facto municipal agricultural extension service professionals. In addition, it should also be noted that the F&B Programme has worked closely with local municipalities in the establishment of the F&B Information Centers (please see the Exit Strategy). Currently five Information Centers have been installed and are in full operation, and this fall an additional five will be installed in five municipalities.
- Only few F&B farmer associations, cooperatives and producer groups have been established. There has been a resistance among the farmers to engage in such group formation, partly due to the history of Serbia and the lack of support from the GoS to cooperatives.
- Relationships and trust between F&B processors/producers in the south of Serbia and governmental institutions have not improved remarkably. The farmers in the south of Serbia continue to have a very low trust with governmental institutions, despite the efforts from the F&B Programme to encourage more interaction, including through the F&B grant scheme.
- Although relationships and cooperation between F&B buyers and sellers have improved, the bargaining power of the small F&B farmers has only increased to some smaller extent (getting better prices and deals). The relationships between F&B buyers and sellers and the mechanisms for buying/selling of F&B production have improved over the programme period (e.g. cold store operators are providing various levels of support to the farmers). However, the small farmers are still to a large extent selling their F&B production to local collectors on receipt and in general their price bargaining position has not changed importantly. The limited capacity for cold storage and processing within some areas are also affecting the farmers bargaining position.
- Linking of larger producers and processors to export markets have been done more from an individual than from a strategic perspective. The increased export of fresh, frozen and processed F&B from the region has happened through individuals taking opportunities from participation in trade fairs in Europe, not because of a strategic (pull) approach to export markets.
- The F&B programme has only partly succeeded in convincing farmers to produce for the fresh fruit market (export). Partly a consequence as the bullet above and the reluctance of farmers to establish larger units (cooperatives) which would make it more feasible to implement the required standards and certification processes.
- Access to finance is still a major challenge to small farmers. Despite the F&B grant scheme opportunity, and the expansion of the LEDIB credit facility, operated in cooperation with the National Bank of Serbia, to all five districts supported by the F&B Programme, limited access to finance still constitute a major barrier for small farmers to further develop their business.
The following key lessons can be drawn from the experience with the F&B Programme in Serbia, with a particular view to the value chain development perspectives:
- Geographical focus: A focused and geographical delimited intervention area can be important for the local value chain actors to obtain trust and confidence in the value chain approach applied by the support interventions.
- Grant + capacity building: A mix of targeted financial support and complementary capacity building activities can be an effective mean to boost production levels in the short-term among small farmers.
- Capacity assessments: Large increases in local production levels within a relatively short timeframe will put pressure simultaneously on multiple capacity factors (land, cold storage, processing, water/soil etc.). It is therefore important that proper capacity assessments are carried out prior to such programme interventions.
- Programme design: When programme key targets (indicators) have focus on short-term boosting of production, income end employment figures, there is a risk that strategic market development interventions will receive less attention if programme implementation gets delayed.
- Market development interventions: Building of trust and radical changes in relationships and bargaining power between market actors, including with governmental institutions, may not be possible to achieve within a 4-5 year programme timeframe. Such interventions may need a medium- to long-term timeframe.
- Segmentation and organisation/association of farmers: Models for organising/ associating farmers to make them stronger market players may need to be explored beyond the concept of cooperatives and include a segmentation of farmers with more tailored interventions, considering that not all farmers are commercially oriented.
- Public sector involvement: A significant involvement and responsibility of governmental institutions in value chain development programme interventions may not be effective from an ownership and sustainability perspective. The approach and incentives from governments are often very different from those of the private sector and the issue of trust is critical. It may be more useful to provide targeted technical support to governments to support developing of enabling conditions for the value chains.
- Extension services: Access to competent agricultural advisory services are crucial for most farmers and alternative models to the public extension system may be needed, e.g. models building on partnerships and mutual incentives.
- Access to finance: Finance is crucial for value chain producers and processors to increase their production levels. Small farmers often don’t have access through established financial systems, in which case alternatives will need to be established, also beyond the programme intervention period.