New legislation regulating land relations is needed. A roundtable under the heading “Current state, problems and prospects in Agriculture through the prism of land relations” was held.
Land fragmentation, small arable plots and the lack of irrigation impede the development of modern and efficient agriculture, create uncertainties and difficulties for long-term investment in the industry, hinder the development of intensive agriculture, negatively affect soil conservation, fertility, crop rotation, etc. Negative climate changes are pronounced and clearly visible. Prerequisites for sustainable use of agricultural land are insufficient, which is a mandatory condition for the implementation and practice of modern forms of agriculture, as an alternative to the conventional type currently practiced throughout the country. Protection of inviolability of private property is not properly provided for by the law and therefore it is not guaranteed. Last but not least, the link between science and higher education with the business and the non-governmental unit in the agricultural sector has been severed and, in general, science is not to become a priority of the state in the foreseeable future.
To address the above-mentioned problems effectively, it is necessary for an entirely new legislation to be drawn. This legislation should be a coordinated effort between the legislative power and the executive power, the non-governmental sector altogether, with the support of the academia.
The above listed key issues were discussed at a roundtable held on 16th June 2022 under the heading “Current state, problems and prospects in Agriculture through the prism of land relations” The forum was organized by the Bulgarian Association of Agricultural Land Owners on occasion of its 15th anniversary. The event brought together a couple of participants, listed as follows: Stefan Burdzhev – Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Daniel Yordanov, Director of Directorate “Land Relations and Land Consolidation” at the Ministry of Agriculture, Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary-General of European Landowners’ Organization (ELO), Dobri Mitrev, Chairman of the Management Board of the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA), Prof. Dr. Sc.(Econ.) Eng. Martin Banov, Chairman of the Agricultural Academy, Prof. Dr. Sc. (Econ.) Dimitar Grekov, the Agricultural University of Plovdiv, Ass. Prof. Dr. Rumyana Vasilevska-Ivanova, Institute of Plant Physiology and Genetics at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Galina Peycheva-Miteva, BAALO member and ELO Board of Directors member. The event was hosted by Stayko Staykov – Chairman of BAALO Management Board.
During the discussion, a number of priorities concerning the development of Agriculture in Bulgaria were outlined:
- To create and implement short, medium and long-term government policies and programs aimed at the development of agriculture and agricultural land relations, partially based on analysis, forecasting and planning.
- Non-governmental (industry) organizations in agriculture to be united based on industry, product or functional characteristic, as well as at national level in the form of a National Agricultural Chamber; these can become a representative partner of the legislative and executive authorities in Bulgaria, can successfully protect the rights and interests of their members through the prism of the public interest and be equal partners of their European counterparts. In this context, the State must create opportunities and regulations through which to stimulate the unification of the non-governmental sector and, at the next stage, to provide funds ensuring the administrative autonomy of the National Agricultural Chamber.
- It is necessary for an entirely new legislation regulating land relations, including the ownership and use of agricultural land, its renting, conservation, irrigation, rearrangement and grouping of agricultural plots, to be drafted.
- Measures need to be taken so as to increase the protection of inviolable private property, to exclude any possibility of property theft, the unlawful illegal use of land, a fair compensation by the State to the owners in case of expropriation, etc.
- With regard to hydromelioration, the state and the ownership of existing facilities have to be immediately evaluated so to proceed with the design and construction of new irrigation facilities alongside with the restoration and modernization of the already existing infrastructure (currently state and municipal property). It is also necessary to provide a financial resource and incentives for landowners and farmers to build new irrigation systems and drainage facilities at farm level.
• Turn science into a state priority by significantly increasing public spending on research and development in the field of agricultural sciences and significantly increasing the pay of scientists and professors at universities. This will increase the attractiveness of the scientific sector and prevent the loss of existing scientific capacity and continuity. Attracting young researchers and scientists will be easier. It is also necessary to implement policies and incentives to restore the link between science and higher education with business and the non-governmental sector.
In his speech to the participants at the roundtable, THE PRESIDENT OF BAALO, Stayko Staykov, stressed that the mission of BAALO is, in partnership with the legislative, executive and local authorities, alongside with the science and non-governmental sector of the agricultural industry, to support the development of modern, market-oriented agriculture and land relations. The income of Bulgarian farmers has to catch up and become equal to the one of their colleagues from the old Member States of the European Union. Grouping of agricultural land leads to an increase in their productivity, which respectively raises their added value.
“Among our priorities is the restoration, modernization and construction of new hydromeliorative infrastructure, proactive measures to prevent erosion, floods, fires, etc. Complex measures need to be taken which to realistically address all the problems the agricultural sector in Bulgaria is facing. Those measures have to cover local, regional and global risks, taking into account trends in European and also in Global terms”, said the Chairperson of BAALO. He also presented several figures in agriculture: out of the total of 55 million decares arable land fund in Bulgaria, only 36-38 million decares of land is being used. Only 3% of the arable land uses public irrigation systems. Bulgaria loses 5-10 percent of its production annually due to natural disasters.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Stefan Burdzhev, believes that the discussions at the roundtable have given a strong and clear example that there is a mutual understanding and dialogue between science, the authorities, NGOs and the business. “We will take into account constructive criticism and continue the dialogue. On legislative action – the foundations have not been laid in the best way since the 1990s. We are lagging behind on proposed legislative changes and will try to catch up. We have undertaken a very strong commitment – improving and updating the Law on Industry Organizations by increasing its scope so to widen its circle and therefore have partners with whom to look for the right solutions together. So far we have been able to systematize what has been left, to identify what the gaps are, but the philosophy of the Ministry is to start designing and building the central highway water mains in Northern and Southern Bulgaria. Without science, we cannot meet the changes that are occurring (crises, wars), so we must duly appreciate it and support it in all possible ways.
ELO Secretary-General Thierry de l’Escaille welcomed the participants in the Forum and pointed out that when seeking solutions in the field of agriculture, it is good for Bulgarian farmers to join the European AgriLife initiative. “The idea of this initiative, funded by the European Commission, is jointly for the non-governmental sector, science and business to create a handbook for objective assessment of biodiversity and bio-agriculture in order for the farmers to meet the new requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy. The possibility of adopting this tool in Bulgaria will help to increase the quality of production and the conservation of birds, insects and plant species”, said Mr Thierry de l’Escaille.
BIA (Bulgarian Industrial Association) President Dobri Mitrev pointed out that the state of Bulgarian agriculture is not at the level we would like it to be and it is far behind in comparison to its achievements in the past. “From a country that fed all of Europe, Bulgaria has become a net importer of food and agricultural products. Over 70% of the agricultural products on the Bulgarian market are imported, given that the country possesses unique natural and climatic features, the potential of which however, to date, is not efficiently used”, said Dobri Mitrev. He believes that among the reasons for the poor condition of the agricultural sector are the volatile and uncontrollably rising energy prices (especially during the past year), which led to a shortage and/or to rising costs of fertilizers and put greenhouse production and cultivation at serious risk. Today’s discussion is indicative that we are looking in the same direction and we have one goal – prosperous Bulgarian economy and modern agriculture. Crises and challenges (military, medical and economic) show that we need to go back to what created us – the land. Discussion of the problems will eventually lead us to coming up with the solution”, said the President of the Bulgarian Industrial Association (BIA).
According to the President of the Agricultural Academy, Prof. Dr.Sc.(Econ.) Eng. Martin Banov, it is not often that Science, Business and the Ministry are gathered together at the same table, and it is even rarer to come up with common solutions. “The main highlights are addressing climate change, the protection of Bulgarian soils and varieties of plants (fruits and vegetables). Another issues mentioned was regarding the wages in Science and Education – not only remuneration, but also the financing of common tasks, the resolution of which is important”, said Prof. Dr. Banov.
Prof. Dimitar Grekov, M.D. from the Agricultural University of Plovdiv, said that among the main problems are leases, rents and land consolidation. “These issues will continue to be on the agenda in the future, with the biggest problems being short-term contracts (for one or two years). The presence of many heirs makes it difficult to use land – agricultural land is broken down into 900,000 pieces. The problem for industry organizations is also real, in practice, there exists no organization that represents the whole business in the sector.
Small problems are solved in small communities, but this is not a solution. It is important that there is a union between the industry organizations in order for the management to have access to representative organizations,” said Prof. Grekov. With regard to Science, he pointed out as a problem that information is currently being sought from foreign companies, and Bulgarian science can provide this information and the necessary solutions. “There is a paradox – Bulgarian scientists work for foreign companies, experience and genetic material go into foreign hands. It is important to focus not on fundamental research, but on issues such as varieties and extinct soil and plant species,” added Prof. Grekov.
Ass. Prof. Dr. Rumyana Vasilevska – Ivanova from the Institute of Plant Physiology and Genetics at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, said that this is the very first time such a meeting has been organized and thanked for the invitation. “I hope this will be the first in a series of meetings to build on what we have achieved so far.”