Slovenia’s Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry plays a crucial role in supporting the activities of the country’s agriculture and forestry sector and in promoting rural development. The Chamber is a non-government organisation which, by law, must be involved in the creation of any legislation or national strategies involving agriculture or forestry in Slovenia.
The Chamber serves as a liaison between the government and individuals and enterprises involved in agriculture and forestry activities in Slovenia, and it represents the agriculture and forestry sectors abroad. One of the Chamber’s most important tasks is also the implementation of measures relating to the common agricultural policy. The Chamber advises to farmers how to gain funds from these measures.
Linking public and private sectors
The Chamber has more than 112,000 members, including individuals (primarily owners of agricultural land and forests), agricultural co-operatives, and enterprises involved in the agriculture sector. Ciril Smrkolj, President, explains, “We work to link the interests of the private sector with the public sector. We are involved in agricultural and environmental legislation, and we also facilitate rural development. We represent our members in any disputes or conflicts, and we also represent their interests in Brussels.”
To keep in close touch with local issues, the Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry has established 13 regional units throughout the country. Members of these units report to national leaders and help to instigate action plans specific to local challenges.
The Chamber has also founded eight agricultural institutes. “These institutes provide training, education, advisory services, and support for farmers concerning their projects,” Ciril Smrkolj points out. Some of the eight institutes’ services are offered for free, including legal services, while others (such as analyses of soil, wine and other products as well as assistance in project preparation) require a fee.
One of the Chamber’s goals is to diversify activities on Slovenia’s farms and to expand opportunities for residents of rural areas. For example, the Chamber assists farmers who wish to set up tourism related activities and accommodations on their farms, and now Slovenia has some 800 farms which are open to visitors. Such efforts can help to stem the flow of workers away from Slovenia’s rural areas because of a lack of employment opportunities. As Ciril Smrkolj points out, “We have lost 40,000 jobs in the agriculture sector in recent years. One problem is that many farmers have been unable to cover their production costs, so production has been falling.”
Reversing this trend is one of the Chamber’s main long- term goals. In addition, the Chamber is promoting higher standards in the production of meats and dairy products. It has already succeeded in upgrading Slovenia’s standards for food production to guarantee safe products for consumers.
Attracting foreign capital
A major challenge for the Chamber is to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in Slovenia’s farmers and other rural residents. Ciril Smrkolj says, “We are still faced with the consequences of a socialist regime. For 50 years our farmers had no entrepreneurial spirit. Many still believe that it is taboo to try to attract foreign capital and investment. We are trying to help our farmers to evolve.”
Bringing in foreign investment to support Slovenia’s agriculture sector is a key goal for the Chamber. With its varied agricultural sites and long history of high quality food and wine production, including a tradition of farming organically, Slovenia offers strong potential for investors in agriculture, and the Chamber is working to make these advantages better known while also encouraging Slovene farmers to partner with foreign investors. “We must work towards internationalising the agriculture sector and attracting foreign direct investment,” Ciril Smrkolj believes.
Boosting agricultural exports is another goal for the Chamber. Ciril Smrkolj says, “We do not have significant agricultural exports. Concerning wine production, for example, we need more aggressive expansion, especially given the wine glut in Europe. We are not promoting the sector adequately, and we need to do more promotion. We also need to invest more in promoting the image of Slovenia’s agriculture sector in general as well as promoting agriculture itself. In addition, we need to make our cooperative agricultural operations more business oriented and more capable of marketing their products.”
Ensuring sustainable development
The Chamber aims to build on Slovenia’s long agricultural tradition to ensure sustainable development for both agriculture and forestry in Slovenia over the long term. Ciril Smrkolj concludes, “In the worst of times, Slovene farmers have been able to provide our people with food and to support our economy while helping to preserve local traditions, culinary specialties and other aspects of our culture. The Chamber aims to help them to continue to produce high-quality products and to play a key role in preserving our native flora and fauna and in keeping our traditions alive.”