Science - November 3, 2005

‘The question is whether you guys want us’

What will farming be like in the big Europe of the future? Is the market really going to suffer as a result of Poland’s entry? And what will the new Europe mean for big landowners in Serbia and Croatia? And what about all the smallholders in Montenegro?

Europe XL is an exchange project between Wageningen students and students from former Yugoslavia, in which the above questions are posed to discover jointly where the fears and opportunities lie. The former Yugoslavs were introduced to the ideals of organic goat farmer Michiel Cassuto of Capricas in Ede on Tuesday 1 November. The excursion was organised by the Wageningen student organisations De Boerengroep and RUW.

After fourteen Wageningen students returned recently from their tour of former Yugoslavia, East was now visiting West. The Boerengroep has a lot of contact with the region. Lars Keizerwaard tells that they organise lots of internships and excursions in Eastern and Central Europe. Nevertheless they do not have a really good picture of the enormous differences in farming styles to be able to assess whether all the fears associated with a big Europe are well grounded. They hope that this exchange will lead to more mutual understanding.

‘Croatia is on the verge of joining the EU but there are still landmines everywhere, and the agriculture is still in its infancy since the war,’ says Keizerwaard ‘The differences are big, as are those between the students. While we here are focusing increasingly on organic farming and looking for alternatives to just extracting more kilos from fewer hectares, the former Yugoslavs can’t understand why our farmers have other goals than continuous expansion. Their motto seems to be: standing still is going backwards.’

Nevertheless the Serbs are enthusiastic about the goat farm, and not just because of the cute little white goats. ‘We should be doing this kind of thing. We have the potential and our products are good. What we miss is marketing, quality control and a government that can stimulate these activities.’ Their response to whether they would like to join Europe is diplomatic: ‘The question is whether you guys want us.’

It’s a delicate matter that is not discussed much, according to one of the students, Francine van der Loop: ‘In Wageningen we are looking at the issue of how to deal with EU candidate countries where more than half of the farms are smaller than two hectares, and where the European products in the supermarkets are already cheaper than local regional specialities. Nevertheless the Serbs, Croats and Montenegrins seem to be surprised when they hear the practical aspects of Dutch production methods, prices and the internal market.’ Goat keeper Michiel grins: ‘When I told them just now that I get about as much for my organic goat cheese as a conventional farmer gets for his cheese they couldn’t understand why I was still doing what I do.’ / MV

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