Serbia’s Circular Economy Efforts Towards Food and Waste Management
Around one third of food produced globally for human consumption is wasted. For Serbia, the issue is all the more relevant, as agriculture accounts for 6% of the GDP and is a vital part of the economy. This year in March 2022, food production alone accounted for 10.4% of Serbian exports, equalling 277.2 million USD. This represents the largest product group that Serbia exports. As part of the country’s focus on the transition to a circular economy, reducing food loss and managing food waste represents one of their main priorities.
According to Ms. Sandra Dokic, Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Serbia, an integrated approach along with creating awareness and cooperation between multiple sectors will help achieve a circular economy and reduce food loss and waste. The goal is to create regulatory solutions, improve food waste management, and control the flow of bio-waste.
To create awareness, the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Serbia with the help of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), organised the 1st National Policy Dialogue on Circular Economy in Belgrade on the 5th of July 2022. The event initiated the discourse on transitioning to a circular economy in the agricultural sector with a focus on food and waste management. The event saw many national and international stakeholders come together to identify policies and regulations that have held back the transition to a circular economy in Serbia. The 56 attending member states of UNECE made important decisions on the implementation of circular economy practices in the agricultural sector and the sustainable use of natural resources in the frame of the event.
Two further national policy dialogues are being planned to strengthen the capacities of national stakeholders in implementing circular economy measures. These dialogues will lead to the creation of a national gap analysis. This, in turn, will serve as a base for the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Serbia to compose a national action plan by 2023 that will prepare the agricultural sector to adopt circular food and waste management.
A UN Member State and an EU candidate country, Serbia has committed itself to the concept of a circular economy and has created a national circular economy roadmap. It was developed by the Ministry of Environmental Protection of Serbia in 2021 to set forth the next steps and a timeline for the country’s circular development in the upcoming years. Given that agriculture is a main contributor to Serbia’s GDP, the document identifies the agricultural sector as primary for the development of a circular economy in the country. Effective food loss and waste management is key to ensuring sustainable food systems.
In Serbia, annual food waste accounts for around 770,000 tons, 90% of which ends up in landfills which contributes to GHG emissions. This occurs while low-income households barely have access to meals. With the introduction of a circular economy in the agricultural sector, Serbia could reduce the environmental footprint of the sector and, at the same time, increase social welfare.
To help Serbia reach their aim, UNECE has outlined several tools on a technical level. These include the UNECE Code of Good Practice for reducing food loss and ensuring optimum handling of fresh fruit and vegetables along the value chain, a methodology for measuring food loss and waste along supply chains, and the UNECE Guidelines on Waste-to-Energy Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs).
The 1st National Policy Dialogue on Circular Economy held in Belgrade is a step towards the right direction that aims to bring waste management into focus. It brought academia, NGOs, national private sector actors, and international organisations such as UNECE, the UN Resident Coordinator Office in Serbia as well as UNDP together to increase commitment and support on such measures that will support Serbia in transitioning to a circular economy.