ZAGREB, April 26, 2020 – The Croatian Agriculture Ministry on Saturday dismissed media reports that Croatia will have to pay back HRK 3 billion (€400m) to the European Union because inspectors from Brussels have found that only two percent of grants made available for organic farming are justified.
The ministry stresses that the two assertions are unverified and entirely incorrect.
“Since 2015, €128.3 million has been made available to Croatia for organic farming through the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, or one billion kuna in total for the seven-year period, of which 15% are funds from the state budget and the rest are funds from the European Rural Development Fund. Since then, the interest of farmers in high-quality food production… has increased significantly,” the ministry recalls.
Due to the significant increase in organic farming areas and demand in organic farming grants, the funds made available in the said programming period became insufficient, which prompted the Agriculture Ministry in November 2019 to ask the European Commission to increase the financial allocation for organic farming, the ministry recalls.
A review of grants for perennial organic crops was made at the time and based on an expert analysis, grants were proposed for walnut and hazelnut plantations, the ministry says.
It recalls in that context that back in 2015, it adopted rules on a single grant of €723 per hectare for organic fruit farming, which exceeded grants proposed by experts for individual types of fruit.
It is rather evident that the significant increase in areas covered in nut plantations is due to the increased grant, the ministry says.
“Reports that there is a danger that HRK 3 billion will have to be paid back are entirely incorrect as is the claim that 98% of organic farming in Croatia is fake, and that claim is also very unfair towards organic farmers,” the ministry says.
It admits that there are irregularities regarding farming grants, but notes that it has been identifying and penalising such cases through regular checks and inspections on the ground, which has helped reduce their number.
The ministry notes that checks on the ground have established that in 2017 and 2018, 283 hectares of walnut and hazelnut plantations were not eligible for organic farming grants due to overgrowth or other reasons, which helped prevent a negative financial effect on the state budget in the amount of HRK 2.3 million.
It says that most Croatian farmers work hard and that it has been working to help them, with EU grants as well as budget funds, to earn a sustainable income and stay in their rural communities.
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