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Organic farming takes root in Serbia
by Global Good News staff writer
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26 February 2014
Seven or eight years ago when Branko Cicic, director of the Transcendental Meditation programme in Serbia, became interested in organic agriculture, he and his wife started out knowing nothing on the topic.
They were inspired by the knowledge of Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture, brought to light from the ancient Vedic literature by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Founder of the Transcendental Meditation programme, and set out to encourage widespread cultivation of organic products in Serbia to improve the health of the population.
They started educating themselves by reading books on agricultural methods and practices, and on organic agriculture. Starting in 2006, with a view to problem solving they began to visit organic producers, in order to see the process and to understand the issues in organic agriculture. From there the success of organic farming in Serbia unfolded, Dr Cicic commented in a recent interview.
One issue they ran into was the limited supply of organic seeds. Specific laws prohibited organic farmers from saving seeds from one season to the next. Saving seeds, Dr Cicic said, 'is the essence of organic cultivation'. There were also procedural details to work out on many levels, but across the board sales was the biggest challenge. Customers looking for organic produce needed legitimate assurance that the produce was organically grown.
From the headquarters of green markets in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, Dr Cicic and his team were able to get a top-of-the-line stall in one of the best green markets in the city. As is not uncommon in the initial stages of setting up a produce business, especially organics, there was a loss the first year. To turn the tide the Cicics got directly involved in the sales process. Within three to four months the systems were refined, and since that time their stall has always been successful.
With the sales end of the business working smoothly the decision was made to inspire more growers to produce organic food. The Cicics and their team visited national farms throughout the country one by one, explaining the advantages of organic farming to the growers. In the beginning, Dr Cicic said, the challenges were great, but as time passed more farmers understood the benefits and became interested in switching to organic. Now, he said, they no longer need to recruit—the farmers are coming to them.
In fact, interest has become so great, with more requests than they can respond to, that the farmers are now sent directly to the organic certification board. Currently more than 40 per cent of all organic farming in Serbia is a result of this team effort to spread the word on the importance of organic food production.
At the start there were no subsidies, and no business plan. Yet now, eight years later, the project is going almost by itself, and to date includes thousands of hectares of farmland converted from conventional farming methods to organic and sustainable methods.
As business success is a matter of supply and demand, currently their attention is on creating a larger customer base for organic produce. Although in many areas the demand is larger than the supply, the focus now is on educating the Serbian people to understand the critical need for organic food.
At the beginning of the campaign farmers were motivated to grow their produce organically due to idealism, Dr Cicic said. Once they started, however, they found it to be profitable, and their families were able to live comfortably. The good standard of living achieved by the first wave of organic farmers has inspired another large wave of interest and activity. The average Serbian farm is about 3.5 hectares of mixed farming—cows, goats, horses, fruits, vegetables, and even some processing like jams, fresh cheese, etc.
Recently the largest organic dairy in Europe, with 2,000 cows, converted to organic. They cultivate organic food for the cows, having become interested for business reasons—big companies are attracted to the idea of organic because of the potential for profits, Dr Cicic commented.
More farmers are continuing to learn about organic farming through word of mouth, and from the weekly television show 'Organic Serbia', produced by Dr Cicic, which is shown on 15 stations and now includes a section on Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture. Among other important features, Maharishi Vedic Organic Agriculture places emphasis on developing the consciousness of the farmer, and Dr Cicic feels that this is a key element for developing prosperity and an ideal quality of life for Serbian farmers and their families, and for the whole population.
See related articles:
∙ Serbia: For fifth year, BioBalkan Expo brings organic farmers and businesses together
∙ 'Organic Serbia' show airing weekly on 15 television stations throughout the country
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