Credit Access in SerbiaThe Balkan nation of Serbia suffers from many of the same problems with credit access as its neighbors. And as with its neighbors, these problems pose a significant obstacle to small-scale, grassroots economic development. That being said, there are several initiatives underway to help to improve credit access in Serbia until the Serbian financial industry is able to offer expanded opportunities to secure credit.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Serbian banks have set very rigid requirements in order to secure a line of credit. Interest rates tend to be prohibitively high for small business owners, and there are many regulations in place that discourage lending to small businesses and startups because they are perceived to be too risky. The government has introduced subsidies and risk-sharing programs to try to mitigate this problem at great cost to the state, but this has not been sufficient to really improve credit access in Serbia. It is estimated that small and medium-sized enterprises in Serbia are collectively in need of €267 million worth of financing that Serbian banks are not willing to lend.

This is not to say that the Serbian financial industry is underdeveloped or ill-equipped. The World Bank is quite satisfied with the state of credit access in Serbia at a broad level. However, it does acknowledge that small and medium-sized enterprises experience more difficulty than they should when trying to access credit.

There have been several positive developments over the past several years that bode well for the future of credit access in Serbia. Recently, banks have begun to change the risk assessment procedures that they use when dealing with small and medium-sized enterprises. Where previously these entities were assessed in the same manner as a large corporation would be, many banks now use a procedure that takes into account the comparatively small size of these enterprises and does not allow size or inexperience to negatively impact the applicant.

Additionally, many international entities have stepped in to extend additional microfinancing money to be used to improve credit access in Serbia. The European Investment Bank recently provided €30 million to ProCredit Holdings in Serbia. This is intended to promote long-term, stable credit access in Serbia that will encourage economic growth and development for years to come.

While credit access in Serbia remains less than ideal, these recent developments represent major improvements over the previous situation. If similar improvements continue to follow, it can be expected that improved credit access will precipitate much greater economic development in Serbia in the coming years.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in SerbiaA Serbian institution called BioSense is at the forefront of innovative agricultural solutions research to practice more sustainable agriculture in Serbia. Global food security is one of the main issues of concern in European Union policymaking. Research has concluded that global food production must increase by 50 percent in the next 20 years. That increase will have to come from the intensification of current agricultural practices, so farmers must adapt to make their farms more productive.

The BioSense Centre at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia has partnered with the Foundation for Agricultural Research (DLO) at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, the leading research institute for applied research in agriculture and food security in Europe. BioSense, the regional leader in sustainable agriculture and advanced IT solutions research, is working with the DLO to increase food security in Serbia through the integration of advanced IT solutions into agricultural practices.

BioSense has pioneered a new trend in sustainable agriculture in Serbia called precision agriculture, which utilizes Wireless Sensor Networks (WSN) and Remote Sensing to acquire detailed crop data for analysis. The WSN is made up of tens or hundreds of sensors distributed appropriately throughout crop fields. The sensors communicate through wireless signals and acquire data on a variety of factors, including:

  • Humidity
  • Soil temperature
  • Illumination
  • Plant diameter
  • Growth rate

WSN make crop monitoring much more efficient and accurate. This advanced technological solution to precision agriculture can help farmers pinpoint and address problems or weaknesses within their fields. This will enable farmers to produce more food with fewer resources and inputs.

The integration of agriculture and advanced IT solutions is an important potential source of economic growth. Agriculture is one of the biggest industries in Serbia, making up almost 10 percent of its total GDP. Serbia has ideal conditions for agricultural production, with fertile soil, good climatic conditions, experienced farmers, good infrastructure and a rich farming tradition.

Serbia’s current farm structure is dominated by small farms. The country’s potential accession to the European Union may threaten the livelihood of small farmers and “farming heritage” as larger foreign competitors move into the market. Farmers must be willing and able to utilize the kind of advanced IT agricultural solutions developed by institutions like BioSense in order to increase their productivity to keep up with new competitors.

Sustainable agriculture in Serbia will be driven by research-based innovations in advanced IT solutions. BioSense’s strategies like precision agriculture and WSN would not only benefit Serbian farmers striving to drive up productivity in a more competitive agricultural market, but would contribute to the global struggle for food security.

– Sydney Lacey

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

cause of the bosnian warThe Bosnian War began in 1992 and lasted until 1995, though the cause of the Bosnian War has roots in World War II and its impact is still being felt in 2017. The war led to the deaths of around 100,000 people. It also spurred the genocide of at least 80 percent Bosnian Muslims, also called Bosniaks.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Balkan states of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia became a part of the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, a communist country held together by its leader Josip Broz Tito. Part-Croat and part-Slovene, Tito checked both separatism and ethnic nationalism with stiff jail sentences.

Tito rebuilt Yugoslavia as a Communist federation of six equal republics, but the ethnic conflict was never far from the surface. Serbians disliked Tito’s recognition of the Macedonians and the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina as distinct nationalities. However, these bad relationships alone were not the cause of the Bosnian War. The collapse of Communism in the Balkan states was punctuated by Tito’s death in 1980. Following this, the Balkan states clamored for independence.

Slobodan Milosevic rose to power in Yugoslavia in 1986 as a lightning rod for nationalism. Milosevic was a leader who deliberately created conflict between Serbians, Croatians and Muslim Bosniaks (the three main ethnic groups in the region). Milosevic, also called “The Butcher of the Balkans” took advantage of the ethnic tensions that would be the cause of the Bosnian War.

Croatia and Slovenia fought alongside Germany and Austria in World War I, while Serbia fought alongside the allies. Because of this, Serbs regarded themselves as the dominant partners when they joined the Croats and Slovenes in 1918 to found the state what would be called Yugoslavia.

By using old grudges, stirring up nationalistic emotions, and inciting dreams of a “Greater Serbia,” a country made up of only Serbians, Milosevic succeeded in rallying support for himself. By 1971 in Bosnia, Muslims represented the largest single population group. In a 1991 census, Bosnia’s population of some four million was nearly half Bosniak.

Bosnia’s Serbs, led by a man named Radovan Karadzic and backed by Milosevic, resisted and threatened bloodshed when Bosnia proclaimed its independence in 1992. The Serbs wished to remain part of Yugoslavia and create a nation only for Serbians.

Two days after the European Community and the United States recognized Bosnia’s independence, the Serbian Democratic party — whose members wanted to be part of the “Greater Serbia” — launched an offensive with the bombardment of Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo.

The Bosnian War was marked by ethnic cleansing, with thousands of civilians killed and millions displaced. On July 11, 1995, Serbian forces attacked and overwhelmed the city of Srebrenica, a city the U.N. had designated as a safe haven in 1993. The forces separated the Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica, putting the women and girls on buses and sending them away while killing the men and boys on the spot or bussing them off to mass killing sites. An estimated 8,000 people died in the massacre.

Following this, awareness and international outcry over the war reached its zenith. In November 1995, the United States sponsored peace talks between the Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, resulting in the creation of a federalized Bosnia divided between a Croat-Bosniak federation and a Serb republic.

Tribunals over the war crimes committed during the war were established 23 years ago. Serbia only acknowledged the massacre of Srebrenica in 2004. Milosevic was jailed in 2002 on 66 counts of genocide and war crimes and died in his cell in March of 2006.

Last month in 2017, a Croatian general charged with war crimes had his sentence of 20 years upheld, and instead of submitting himself he chose to drink poison in the middle of the courtroom.

– Sam Bramlett

Photo: Flickr

infrastructure in serbia
As a major economic contributor to food, incomes, public goods and services in rural areas, agriculture infrastructure in Serbia plays a large role in the livelihood of its people. With over two-thirds of Serbia’s land being agricultural, farming is an important aspect of economic success. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management (MAFWM) is continually trying to find ways to improve the agriculture sector in terms of efficiency and competitiveness.

Agriculture made up 11.9 percent of Serbia’s GDP in 2016, the large figure due mostly to better weather conditions. Crops were able to grow to an abundance and support the rural area residents. Currently, there are 680,000 people employed in agriculture, which makes up 21 percent of Serbia’s labor force. With such a high percentage of people working in agriculture, the sector became of more importance to infrastructure in Serbia.

The Rural Development Program for Serbia is designed to increase food-safety and competitiveness of the agri-food sector. With the $200 million investment from the European Commission, the program will take six years and the investments will be distributed as grants. These grants will be given to:

  1. Farmers producing milk, meat, fruits and vegetables and other crops
  2. Micro-, small- and medium-sized milk, meat, fruits and vegetable processing farms
  3. Organic production
  4. Development of private rural tourism facilities

By having an agriculture sector that focuses on competitiveness, there then exists a way to find balance between farm viability, environmental protection and the social development of rural areas. In order to improve competitiveness, Serbia is:

  1. Reducing production costs
  2. Increasing economic size of holdings
  3. Promoting innovation and orientation towards the specific market
  4. Trying to create better measurements for agricultural investments pertaining to physical investments and human capital investments
  5. Emphasize the importance of selling quality products

From 2016 to 2017, the Serbian Parliament increased its agriculture budget by 8 percent. This increase in investment will help in positively changing the social and economic conditions in rural areas. These rural areas will benefit greatly from assistance and cause the agriculture infrastructure in Serbia to be able to produce more crops. The continuing emphasis put on agriculture in Serbia creates a positive outlook on the development of better communities.

– Brianna Summ

Photo: Flickr

humanitarian aid to serbiaOver the last two decades, Serbia has rarely been mentioned in the news without controversy. Civil wars and independence movements have marred the reputation of this Balkan nation, giving rise to the need for humanitarian aid to Serbia for many of those years. Now, Serbia looks to leave that past behind and move peacefully and progressively into the future. In 2013 the European Council agreed to negotiations that would allow Serbia into the European Union; the talks began in 2014 and continue to this day.

Due to poor leadership and an increase in nationalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Federation of Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. Member states began to declare independence, and by 1992, conflicts began to break out all over Yugoslavia. For the next 15 years, the Balkans would be associated with political and cultural strife, creating a need for international assistance and eventually leading to the success of humanitarian aid to Serbia.

In 1992, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) began work in Serbia. The modern goal of the IRC is to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by conflict. The IRC assisted the people of Serbia though conflict until 2004 and has been a major indication of the success of humanitarian aid to Serbia.

In response to the migrant crisis that affected the Balkan region in March 2016, the Serbian government, European Commission, the IRC and other international and Serbian-based charities initiated a response to provide those stranded with humanitarian aid. The European Commission allocated €25 million in funding for the Serbian government to assist refugees and fund other humanitarian aid projects. Much of the money allocated for refugees has been spent on government-run reception centers. The goal of these centers is to track and assist the over 4,000 refugees in Serbia.

Refugee Aid to Serbia (RAS) is a charity located in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. This local charity works in conjunction with international charities such as NGO North Start and the International Women’s Club, to provide food, education, clothing and legal aid to those stranded throughout the country.

While the number of refugees in Serbia may seem small in comparison to other European nations, the impact on the local economy of Serbia has been significant. This is due to its smaller national economy and population.

– Nick DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in Serbia In Serbia, gender inequality is prevalent in the workforce. Disproportionate responsibilities for household tasks, the lack of flexible work arrangements, the continued practice of traditional gender roles and low demand for female employees lend to inequalities among business and governmental roles.

According to research by the World Bank, the employment rate of women is 26 percent lower than it is for men, resulting in higher unemployment and inactivity rates for women. When addressing self-employment and company owners, men constitute 72 percent of those who are self-employed and 71 percent of business owners. Men also make up 80 percent of ministerial positions in government, leaving a disproportionally small percentage of women in positions of authority. The largest discrepancies in employment are evident when discussing uneducated women and girls.

Women in Serbia are disadvantaged due to an educational system that does not promote a balance between work, school and domestic duties. Many lose opportunities to pursue education or attain work experience because of the expected duties of women, such as unpaid household work. Women who are in need of work, due to their economic situation or cost of living, are often forced into lower-paying jobs.

Employment rates rose 4.7 percent for women between 2012 and 2014, but many of these jobs proved to be temporary positions, leaving many uneducated women and girls living in rural locations at a disadvantage. However, various entities are looking at education and work-related gender equality reforms to enhance women’s empowerment in Serbia.

Multiple NGOs and gender advocates are working to influence the government for women’s empowerment in Serbia. The areas of concern relating to gender inequality include the electoral quota, violence against women, women’s entrepreneurship and gender-responsive budgeting. Several laws have been passed to address these issues, some being the Gender Equality Law of 2009, National Strategy for the Improvement of the Status of Women and Promotions of Gender Equality and the Action Plan for 2010-2015. These laws center on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also promotes its goal of equal participation in economic activities and decision making. UNDP’s initiative focuses on building lives free of violence against women, in order to enhance women’s empowerment in Serbia. UNDP’s focus on violence against women addresses the fact that 54 percent of women are exposed to some sort of violence. This program supports state institutions and actors that aid in gender equality and benefitting women and girls against discrimination and violence.

U.N. Women and U.N. Global Impact also worked with twelve companies to sign the Women’s Empowerment Principles. These twelve companies committed to transforming current business methods to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment as core business objectives. The principles addressed flexible working arrangements, such as maternal leave, promotion of enterprise development, marketing empowering women and advocacy on behalf of women. These principles, laws and organizations are actively working to improve the lives of women in Serbia.

– Bronti DeRoche

Photo: Flickr

5 Active Development Projects in SerbiaSerbia is located in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula in Eastern Europe. The United Nations Development Programme measures a country’s overall development through the Human Development Index, which considers all aspects of a nation on its way to development. The Human Development Index ranks Serbia as the 66th most developed country in the world, a ranking which is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, there is still much to be done before Serbia can be considered a fully developed nation. Here are five active development projects in Serbia which are bringing the country closer to becoming fully developed.

  1. Floods Emergency Recovery Project
    The aim of this project is to make the nation less vulnerable to damaging floods, and to improve the response strategies of people living in areas which are at a high risk of flooding. This project will aid farmers in taking precautionary measures in case of a flood so that such an event would not cause a devastating effect on the food supply and economy.
  2. Corridor X Highway Project
    Corridor X refers to the road network which leads from Austria to Greece, connecting the nations of the Balkan Peninsula. This is a critical route for trade, commerce and travel, and there has been a great deal of construction on the highway to try and connect the road networks leading through Serbia. Development projects in Serbia like this one will move the nation closer to becoming fully developed, and will bring increased economic prosperity.
  3. Enhancing Infrastructure Efficiency and Sustainability Project
    This project has a similar goal to the Corridor X Highway Project in that it aims to bring increased connectivity between the different regions of Serbia. By improving infrastructure like roads, water systems and hospitals, this project will help to grow Serbia’s economy and increase ease of travel for Serbian citizens.
  4. Real Estate Management Project
    The Real Estate Management Project addresses an issue which is currently holding Serbia back on the path to development. This project will essentially make the real estate system in Serbia more reliable, accountable and transparent. It will create a dependable system of determining property value, thus ensuring that people pay the right amount of tax on their property. Serbia is adopting an internationally accepted standard of property valuation to achieve this goal.
  5. Deposit Insurance Strengthening Project
    The Deposit Insurance Agency is essentially Russia and Eastern Europe’s version of the American Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and will serve as a financial safety net or backbone behind the banking industry in Serbia. Strengthening the Deposit Insurance Agency will make banking in Serbia more reliable, and will spark economic growth in the nation.

These projects only begin to scratch the surface of all the work that has been done, and has yet to be done, in bringing Serbia into the developed world. While there is an immense list of things that need to be addressed and improved before Serbia can be considered fully developed, development projects in Serbia such as these are leading the way into the future.

Tyler Troped 

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Serbia

Serbia is a small nation in Eastern Europe with a population of just over seven million, this is not including the population of the disputed Kosovo region. Since Serbia is a landlocked nation with no coastline, water pollution from industrial waste sites has a significantly negative impact on the country’s primary river, the Danube, and its primary tributary, the Sava, both of which serve as the largest and most important sources of drinking water for the nation.

Despite being a relatively well-developed European nation, what is the water quality in Serbia like?

According to the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), Serbia actually depends on sources outside of its own national territory for water resources. This is particularly worrisome as most small communities in Serbia, with less than 2000 people, frequently lack wastewater management infrastructure and, because a number of existing facilities within Serbia are non-operational.
Additionally, assigning someone to monitor and secure good water quality in Serbia has become an issue in recent years.

The department of the United Nations responsible for assessing a country’s sanitation and drinking water situation (GLAAS) has stated that while the surveillance systems and institutions required to inspect water quality have been implemented in both urban and rural areas, specific plans to sustain and improve these systems and issues surrounding water system ownership are the main impediments to improving sanitation and water quality in Serbia.

So what can be done to protect water quality in Serbia, particularly in rural areas?

The Serbian government has already taken steps in recent years to ensure that the country’s inhabitants are not put at risk of illness through water consumption. In 2013, Serbia ratified the “Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes” and will preside over it until 2019. This international legal agreement not only ensures sustainable water development and the eradication of water-borne diseases in Europe but is also supported by Serbia’s State Secretary at Health Ministry, Meho Mahmutović, who says that “we need to work together to achieve better environmental conditions in order to protect the health.”.

Despite being a rural level issue, the solution to the issue of water quality in Serbia will ultimately depend on government activity. By clearly defining political jurisdiction over the surveillance of drinking water sources and upholding the Protocol ratified by the Serbian government in 2013, communities outside of the country’s larger cities can live free from the risk of water-borne illnesses.

Brad Tait

Photo: Pixabay

Serbia Poverty Rate

The Republic of Serbia is a European country that declared its independence from the union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Due to Serbia’s separation from the union and its rapid growth between 2001 to 2008, the country faces a substantial poverty rate.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), nine percent of Serbians are living in poverty as of 2016. Additionally, a concerning 25 percent of Serbians are on the verge of poverty. However, the Serbia poverty rate has improved since 2014, in which one in four people were living below the poverty line. Currently, the most vulnerable groups in Serbia are the Roma and youths.

The Roma are widely recognized as the European Union’s largest minority group, totaling ten million people. In many countries, including Serbia, the Roma were particularly vulnerable to poverty largely due to discrimination. Overall, 19.7 percent of Serbians are unemployed, and more than 50 percent of the unemployed are Romani.

Thus, a significant percentage of the Serbia poverty rate is made up by the Roma, who make up two percent of the Serbian population. Poverty among the Roma continues to persist as Serbia’s method for inclusion relies wholly on education, despite current statistics. As of 2015, only 8 percent of Romanis completed high school, due to discrimination and family financial difficulties. To adequately address the economic disparity of the Roma, more efforts will need to be put towards inclusion.

Youth in Serbia are more likely to be on the verge of poverty or living in poverty due to unemployment. The UNDP reported that “1 in 8 children under the age of 14 live in poverty”. As of 2016, 44.2 percent of youths were reported as unemployed. This is caused by a gap between the supply and demand of skilled labor brought about by Serbia’s flawed educational system.

Education in Serbia is currently not centered around their economic needs, so youths do not have the required skills for available positions. Poor education has led to a substantial long-term youth unemployment rate of more than 50 percent. Educational reforms will need to be made to address youth unemployment and poverty.

Governmental reform programs are underway to address the Serbia poverty rate and to prevent more people from falling into poverty. The rapid growth of Serbia led to significant internal and external imbalances that will need to be addressed through fiscal consolidation.

Structural reforms will also be needed to address the current problems with the Serbian educational system as well as other services.  With effort from the Serbia government and outside assistance, there is hope that the Serbia poverty rate will significantly decrease by 2030.

Haley Hurtt

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in SerbiaOver the last two years, Serbia – along with other countries in the Western Balkans – has struggled to contain a severe refugee crisis. Fortunately, there are several ways in which to answer the question of how to help the people of Serbia.

The number of refugees in Serbia has decreased since the crisis started a couple of years ago. Refugees in Serbia come primarily from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. As of late June 2017, the number of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Serbia was 5,948. In total, 93 percent of these people received shelter. This number has decreased significantly since the higher count of 7,600 refugees in mid April; at this point only 85 percent of refugees received proper accommodations.

The EU has designated humanitarian funding to Serbia as of January 2017. About €20.1 million has been spent on emergency assistance and shelters in Serbia, along with even more funding used to manage the flow of migrants.

Despite international aid and a steady decrease in the number of refugees in the country, Serbia still struggles with overcrowding and a lack of adequate accommodations for refugees. Individuals seeking asylum who cannot obtain shelter are, for the most part, found sleeping outside in the streets of Belgrade – hardly an ideal or safe outcome.

The organization Refugee Aid Serbia (RAS) works to benefit and improve the lives of refugees in Serbia during this critical time in the country. With their headquarters based in Belgrade, the organization’s areas of focus are humanitarian aid, education and community outreach. Those who are willing to donate to the cause can do so on the organization’s website. RAS also provides volunteering options and encourages fundraising events.

The agency Help Refugees currently runs 80 projects across eight different countries in Europe and the Middle East. They have focused on improving the Serbia refugee crisis since late 2015, doing things such as organizing volunteers and helping to improve living conditions by providing food and medical aid. Most notably, the organization has made major improvements to a warehouse housing site in Belgrade where 1,000 refugees lived at the time; it was evicted in 2017.

Still wondering how to help people in Serbia? Both of these organizations provide information about volunteering opportunities, as well as how to donate to the cause. With more people educated on this crisis and more people willing to do something to help, progress will continue to be made to improve the lives of refugees in Serbia.

Melanie Snyder

Photo: Flickr