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Agriculture plays an important role in Serbia’s economy, representing around 9% of gross domestic product (including food processing) and about 17% of employment. The Vojvodina region accounts for 47% of the country’s agricultural land, 60% of irrigated areas and 80% of farms over 50 hectares. Fruit orchards are located in the Šumadija region and western Serbia (55%) and south-eastern Serbia (26%). 

Although Serbia boasts favourable conditions for agricultural production, vulnerability to climate change threatens productivity of its main crops.

Serbia has more than 20,000 m3 of available freshwater per inhabitant per year due to an important river network and a good level of average annual precipitation (ranging from 600 mm to 800 mm in the plains to over 1,500 mm in the mountains). The country ranks well above the European Union (EU) average, and has much higher freshwater availability than the six most populous EU member states, which have current annual levels below 3,000 m3 per inhabitant. 

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Investments in irrigation infrastructure have lagged behind, and irrigated areas are still a low share of total agricultural land. To date, only around 120,000 hectares are equipped with irrigation facilities. Currently, the actual irrigated area is about 70,000 hectares, including over 58,000 hectares in Vojvodina. The main irrigated areas are predominantly in the flatlands of Vojvodina and were developed under the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 2019, about 60% of Serbia’s harvested area was dedicated to field crops – maize, wheat, sunflower, soybeans, barley and sugar beets. 

Inadequate irrigation is one of the major constraints hindering the country’s transition to higher value-added crops. Increased crop yields and the expansion of cultivated areas stemming from access to irrigation water would have a positive impact on Serbia’s gross agricultural product and exports. 

Climate change, evolution of demand from agricultural water users and current levels of underinvestment underscore a pressing need to strengthen and modernize Serbia’s irrigation system. 

This strategic document will lay out irrigation development directions. The Strategy is accompanied by seven briefs in the following areas:

  • Water resources availability, distribution and accessibility, including a SWOT analysis of irrigation development potential;  
  • Governance structure around irrigation and water management in the country, including a detailed analysis of the national and international policy framework.  This brief will include a comparative analysis of the Serbian situation with successful institutional and governance set-ups in similar contexts (e.g. in specific European countries and Turkey). It will also include proposals for improvements and capacity development;
  • Water pricing practices in Serbia, including the description of possible scenarios to optimize and develop irrigation pathways progressively allowing cost-recovery tariff levels and financial and environmental sustainability in the sector;
  • Geospatial analysis and mapping of agricultural areas with potential for irrigation development. The analysis will be based on, among others, comparative advantages and competitiveness potential;
  • Key risks, economic opportunities and value drivers of public and private investment in irrigation for select value chains – tentatively cereals, berries and fruit trees in Serbia. The brief will include a section dedicated to the financing of irrigation development at farm level (existing options and proposals);
  • Technology and infrastructure needs for sustainable and profitable irrigation development in Serbia. The brief will include a section related to the use of digital technologies to improve water management and irrigation practices, enhance water conservation and climate change adaptation and reduce operation/maintenance costs for both public and private actors; and 
  • Strategic assessment of social, environmental and climate considerations of irrigation development in Serbia and development of mitigation measures to ensure that investments consider sustainability of water resources, water quality, climate change and do not negatively affect biodiversity, natural resources and communities.

Document in preparation