Serbian Farmers Say Land Law ‘Encourages Corruption’

Serbian farmers are campaigning for the withdrawal of draft legislation on agricultural land, claiming it would give the authorities unchecked powers to lease farmland to favoured investors.

 

Tractors line up in front of parliament during a protest against the law.
Tractors line up in front of parliament during a protest against the law.

Farmers’ organisations from the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina and several political parties are asking for the withdrawal of the new legislation because they claim it creates the conditions for corruption and is unfair to small farmers. Some farmers parked tractors outside parliament in protest on Wednesday as the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina held a rally calling for the draft to be taken off the parliamentary schedule.

The party’s president, Nenad Canak, said that if the law is passed, 30 per cent of Vojvodina’s farmland would be handed over to “unknown people” without any “visible criteria”. “This is why we demand that the draft of the Agriculture Act be withdrawn from the parliamentary schedule. The preparation for the new law has to be a constructive dialogue between the people who live off the land and the people who decide what the fate of that land will be,” Canak said.

Most critics of the new draft have targeted Article 7, which says that 30 per cent of state land in each municipality will be leased out for 30 years on the basis of an investment plan which will be evaluated by a committee set up by the Agriculture Minister. Former Economy Minister Sasa Radulovic, the leader of a political movement called Enough is Enough, told BIRN that this gives the government arbitrary power to decide who can have the land.

“That is a space for corruption. The law gives discretion rights to the local governments and the ministry to decide who will get the land,” Radulovic said. “It also discriminates against farmers, who are deprived of the opportunity to even participate in the auction for the land,” he added.

Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Snezana Bogosavljevic Boskovic said on Wednesday however that it was necessary to bring in big investors because at the moment, most of the land is unused. “In order to speed up progress we have to give someone the chance to invest in agriculture. Everyone is fighting for investments and now we defend something that is not even in use because we do not use a very large part of the land,” Boskovic told Tanjug news agency. She also said that officials are ready to talk with the farmers’ associations at any time to address their concerns.

However Miroslav Kis, who chairs the board of the Vojvodina famers’ association, told BIRN that most of the unused land is “bad land” which is not productive enough to be profitable. He said that if the law was adopted, investors would get favourable treatment at the expense of small famers. “The big investors will take the best land through direct agreement with the government and that will destroy the small ones,” Kis said.

There are 490,000 acres of state-owned land in Serbia which can be leased out, according to the Serbian Agriculture Ministry. Around 250,000 acres of it is in use at the moment.

Balkan Insight

26 November 2015