At the recent South-East Europe Forum, held in Belgrade in the middle of last week, Branko Bajatovic from Bluemond, said that it was important that companies in the region analyse standards.

"Even though we are small, we need to make sure that we are representing ourselves in the best possible way. We also need to ask ourselves what our strengths and weaknesses are."

Bajatovic was just one of the speakers during the forum called 'Emerging potential: new sources of fresh produce in South-East Europe' and was joined by Aleksander Jankovic from Sagar, and Laszlo Ragyak from Rijk Zwaan Hungary.

All three speakers agreed that it was important for companies in the region to join forces and not rely too heavily on government subsidies because this is holding the industry back.

"We need to change our mindset and instead of thinking what needs to be done, we need to think more about what can be done. EU funds can give a huge boost when used effectively. We just need to make sure that we aren't depending too much on waiting for government subsidies, causing the business to remain stagnant. Our company has found success in utilising international labs and consulting agencies. We copied and pasted all the best from the industry, meeting EU standards. We actually say in our company that the only thing Serbian about our blueberries are the roots." exclaimed Bajatovic.

Bajatovic shared that there are several key business risks that will need to continue to be managed to ensure the successful roll out of the strategy. The business risks under the the grower's control are: the scale of operation vs. economy of trade; ongoing and robust quality control; the availability of specialists and scarce resources; an ongoing understanding of the South-East Europe market standing;the impact of rapidly evolving international standards, and continuous efficiency improvements. Of course, there will always be factors out of their control such as weather, competition and supporting frameworks.

Aleksander Jankovic (middle) at a company tour for forum delegates.

Jankovic called out the need for cooperatives, and saying that there was a real need in Serbia and surrounding countries to find someone good to steer them. The industry is segmented and this would help growers become stronger and improve the quality of their products, with certification and good seeds.

Laszlo Ragyak said that one of the big challenges holding back the potential of the market are the great risks that growers face.

"Often the growers in the region are very small, with no cooperatives and very little security. They are unsure at the moment of sowing their seeds, what the season will bring. The risks are so high for them which makes them afraid of taking risks and making investments for the future," said Ragyak.

Each country has their own unique products they supply and it would be beneficial to band together to be able to offer a steady and diverse supply to other markets.

"There are lots of opportunities to be had, but we won't be able to make strides in production without support. We are stuck right now. We have great opportunities, but it will be a long process and government support and IPA's funds will be crucial to our success." concluded Jankovic.