-According to statistics, agricultural land in Bulgaria is the most fragmented and the cheapest in Europe. Why?

-Bulgaria was the only country from the former Soviet bloc which agricultural land was restored to its real boundaries. The result: agricultural farmland was fragmented into millions of small pieces. In northern Bulgaria the size of the average parcel is 5 acres, and in southern Bulgaria-8 acres. This has made it impossible to develop economically efficient and cost-effective farming. An additional problem is the state of irrigation, drainage and prevention facilities. By 1989, we had a capacity to irrigate nearly 12 million acres. Now, according to Eurostat, we are at the bottom of the chart in Europe by a territory equipped with irrigation systems. The condition of the already built thousand dams is unclear, it is also unclear by whom they are managed. According to various sources, municipal property is between 3000 and 5000. Most of them have irrigation systems in unspecified conditions. There is no single supervisory authority, no registers of all dams and waterworks. The problems with prevention and protection from hail continue to be pertinent. There is still no workable solution for the insurance of agricultural production. All this has a negative impact on the price of agricultural land. After its sharp increase during the first years, the rate of increase in price has slowed down to 5% in 2018. Our expectations are similar for 2019 as well. The highest prices for 2018 were indicated the Northeast region with deals between 850 and 1200 BGN/acre and annuities from 40 to 65 BGN/acre. On the opposite side are Gabrovo, Smolyan and Kardjali.

-Can you please comment on the problem that some owners have not even shown a slightest interest in their property and have not claimed property rights on the land ?

-The main reason for the presence of uncultivated land or such without an official contract for rent or lease by its owners, is the extreme fragmentation of the land plots. Often times a plot of several acres is owned by more than 10 people. Official statistics on the so-called white spots or consolidation by use does not exist. A realistic figure would be about 2 million acres. As regards arable land, that would come to approximately 36 million acres. This takes up nearly 6%. The problem is extremely serious. The specialized law giving rights to redistributing land for cultivating is in contradiction with the Constitution which protects the inviolability of private property.

This mechanism was adopted ten years ago as a temporary measure in different from today's circumstances. The owner was obliged to submit an explicit written declaration every year until 31st July whether he would work his land. Failure to make this statement practically deprives it of all the principal attributes of the right to property. Ultimately, a third party is accommodated in his own land without his knowledge and/or consent. Nevertheless, these people have a number of rights, including declaring the property and receiving EU subsidies and national surcharges. The only obligation of those working someone’s land is to deposit the average rent for the land into the foreign account of the respective regional directorate of Agriculture, which is kept for 10-year period, once again without the right of the owner. The problem is the administration of these funds and especially the control of their payment. The fact that these directorates have no obligation to inform the owners they are actually recipients of financial benefits is confusing enough.

We are witnessing a number of cases in which tenants are deliberately refraining from signing contracts of use (rent or lease) of agricultural land. This would have be impossible to happen if the mechanism of the terms of use didn’t exist. This mechanism provides the legal basis for the processing of someone else’s land and obtaining subsidies for that same land, without the explicit need for the owner's agreement.

This long-standing practice violates the rights of the owners and harms more than 3.5 million land owners and their heirs. What’s more, it severs the fragile historical connection of Bulgarians with their land. The effect is deepening of the on-going tendency for depopulation of Bulgarian villages and the presence of the so called ‘white spots’. Our association objected strongly against the above discusses regulations and also to the new texts included in the Land Relations Bill and Conservation of Agricultural Land, introduced in August 2018 by the Ministry of Agriculture.

-For years, companies have been buying agricultural land. Is there any clarity about what is happening with the purchased land – how much of the land has been sold, who are the new owners, what are they doing with it?

-If we talk about companies that specialize in the acquisition and management of agricultural land, they have already played their part. Some of them sold their packages. Others changed their owners. Their activities helped to consolidate agricultural land, increased its price, annuity and the development of a secondary market, which is becoming increasingly important. Agricultural land market momentum is the growing role of agricultural producers who have developed their business and achieved financial stability and who are now convinced of the advantages of working their own land.

-Can foreigners buy agricultural land in Bulgaria at present?

-This is stipulated in the Law on Ownership and Use of Agricultural Land (amendment and supplement, Government Gazette 42, 22/05/ 2018) for the following cases:

1) Natural or legal persons from the EU or parties to the agreement on the European Economic Area may acquire ownership of agricultural land after the expiry of the period laid down in the Accession Treaty of Bulgaria to the EU; 2) Natural or legal persons who have resided or have settled in Bulgaria for more than 5 years; 3) Foreigners or foreign legal persons under the terms of an international treaty, ratified by Article 22, para. 2 of the Constitution, and upon inheritance by law.

-How can the 60 amendments to the land-related laws be interpreted?

-All additions in the laws on ownership and use of agricultural land, conservation and lease in agriculture talk about the lack of long-term strategy in the sector. Bulgaria has lost a lot of time and our lagging behind is more evident than ever.

-How does the lack of farm hand affect agriculture?

-The problem is extremely serious and pertinent to all in this business. The reasons are the lack of long-term policies and strategies and underestimation of its importance. If no crisis measures are taken by the state, a number of businesses will have to close, relocate or restrict their activities.

-What are some of the other problems with agricultural land in our country?

-The main ones are the lack of a specialized law for consolidation and the lack of investment in the hydromeliorative facilities. Widely people do not understand what is behind these terms. Agricultural land consolidation aims at identifying the owners of the agricultural land, redesigning the land, building the infrastructure, irrigation, consolidation of the plots, etc. The hydromeliorative facilities are built for irrigation, drainage and for protection against natural disasters. For many years these problems have been neglected, which led to the impossibility for Bulgarian farmers to be competitive to their European counterparts.

-The new common agricultural policy will be decided by the new European Parliament. Which do you believe is the most important point to be negotiated?

-We are aware of the importance and the meaning of this policy-it is one of the most difficult and with the widest scope. Therefore, I will mention just a couple of points.

• We do not support the proposed ceiling for direct payments. Each Member State possesses different specific features and it should be left on its own to assess and decide on how to develop its own agricultural business and respectively, how to support it

• A reduction in the budget for the development of agriculture in Bulgaria in the next programming period should not be allowed

• A particular attention must be given to the convergence of payment levels between the Member States

• The percentage for mutual support is of particular importance for sectors such as livestock, fruit and vegetables, so it should not be reduced

• A budget that will allow the realization of cooperative and hydro-meliorative projects in agriculture must be negotiated and agreed upon. Otherwise, economically efficient farming cannot be executed

The above mentioned unresolved problems are the reasons for me as a Chairman of BAALO to initiate the establishment of a National Agricultural Chamber and a National Agricultural Land Bank.

***

LAND CONSOLIDATION

For the last 30 years, only 6 cooperative projects have been successfully executed under BAALO initiative. In the first one, in Katunets village, Ugurchin area, 9 owners participated, with 4400 acres of land been consolidated. The average size of the properties was increased up to three times, and the average annuity from the land-about 5 times. The next five projects were implemented in the following areas: Razdel village in Elhovo area, Studena village in Svilengrad area, Momina Tsarkva village in Sredets area,Drumevo village in Shumen area and in Smiadovo town in Shumen area. A total of 17 owners with 40 000 acres of land participated in the project. Currently, BAALO has 15 procedures available for consolidation of agricultural land within the following municipal areas: Strajitsa, Sredets, Borovo, Letnitsa. Elhovo, Gulyantsi, Kaspichan, Pleven, Lovech, Gorna Oryahovitsa, Suhindol and Ugurchin. 100 000 acres have so far been signed for participation and there is also interest on behalf of other participants. Maps of the current state of the land, soil, climate, nature, roads, industry, as well as the areas that need to be consolidated,have been drawn. Maps for reconstructions plans, protection of the environment, etc. have also been drawn.

Източник: https://в. Трета възраст, стр. 1,4

How to find us:

Stayko Staykov
0700 800 66
Sliven, Dobri Chintulov Str. 16

Stayko Staykov as an executive director of Staven AD is president of the management board of the Bulgarian Association of Landowners. BAALO is an association with innovative ideas and projects focused in the sphere of agriculture.


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