Natural conditions, farming traditions and agricultural structures

Bulgarian agriculture has seen fundamental changes since 1989 with the abandonment of the centralized planning of farming and the liberalization of agricultural markets. Huge agricultural production organizations have been liquidated and agricultural land and other assets redistributed or privatized. These developments have meant substantial changes in the type of economic information needed by agricultural institutions in order to manage their market and private transactions, formulate agricultural policy and analyze the results of its implementation (Bachev and Terziev, 1999).

In Annex Table 4 the agricultural structures before and after reforms in Bulgaria are presented. One can observe that despite the privatization of land a fairly large share of the agricultural area is farmed by co-operatives. As a matter of fact, over 40 percent of arable land belong to co-operatives. As far as the individual farms are concerned, their size distribution is presented in Annex Table 5. It is evident from Table 9 that the individually operated farms in Bulgaria are characterized by a large number of very small farms and only a small number (0.2 %) of farms above 10 ha. The average size of the private farms above 10 ha is, however, 509 ha. In addition to these private farms, 3 126 cooperatives (with an average of 700 ha) and 364 state farm (with an average of 3 573 ha) exist (Sarris, 1999). The rural regions in Bulgaria occupy 84 percent of the area and the rural population is 32.3 percent of the whole population, or 2.7 million people (Bentcheva and Georgiev, 1999)

Major types of farming systems as a consequence of transition

In 1997, the total agricultural land area in Bulgaria was 6.2 million ha of land. Of this, approximately 4.8 million ha were arable, and around 1.4 million were pastures and grasslands. An increase of some 440 000 ha in the arable land area has taken place at the expense of pastures and grasslands. Around 95 percent of the cultivated land is private, while the state still owns around 72 percent of the pastures.

According to Bentcheva and Georgiev the changes during the transition period has resulted in a lack of equipment and machinery on farms (Bentcheva and Georgiev, 1999). Many inputs that had been critical before (e.g. fertilizers, lime and pesticides) are simply too expensive to buy. Since many farmers lack experience, management and financial capabilities, they have been careful not to take any market or export risks. Survival of the farm and a minimum income in the short-term are the first priorities. Natural resources and environmental management, therefore, appear to be secondary factors when farmers decide upon agricultural production.

The impact of changes during the transition period on the environmental, social and economic sustainability of farming and farming systems

There has been a marked decline in the production of all crops except for maize, sunflower seed and potato between 1990 and 1997. Cereal yields have declined by 35-41 percent, and vegetables by 42 percent (FAO, 1999B). With a centrally planned economy, the main purpose of the state with regard to agriculture had been to maximize the volume of plant and animal production. This was often done using excessive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides on a national scale. This misuse of inputs exerted a strong negative effect on soil, water, plant and animal production according to Bentcheva and Georgiev. According to these authors, the main problems relating to unsustainable agriculture in Bulgaria are the following:

    1. Land degradation is severe in Bulgaria. Land degradation is caused by acidification and erosion. The main reason for this acidification has been intensive fertilization. Soils with low buffer capacity are more sensitive to this effect. A traditional way of preventing soil acidification is liming the soil. In addition, deterioration of soils due to construction work has also been high. Bentcheva and Georgiev have presented detailed figures for 1985 for the deteriorated, polluted and degraded soils in Bulgaria. Totally degraded soils constituted 37.7 percent of the arable area (or 1.753 million ha of arable land) in 1985. Of this, the acid soil area was 0. 4775 million ha (or 10 percent) of the arable area according to the soil balance of Bulgaria in 1985. In contrast, according to data of the Ministerial Council for 1994, around 1.5 million ha (or 32.4 percent of the cultivated lands) suffered from increased soil acidity due to the excessive use of mineral fertilizers. Of these, 0.460 million hectares (30.7 percent) showed a harmful-to-plants acidity, and 0.630 million hectares (42 percent) had moderately acidified soils. Soil acidification is observed almost everywhere in the plain regions of the country, where agricultural crops are produced. The "leader" in this respect is the region of Plovdiv, where the situation is especially serious and disturbing. This trend decreased sharply after 1994, since fertilizer prices rose over tenfold between 1994 and 1997. However, liming has decreased severely, as the areas limed in 1997 only were 1.7 percent of those limed in 1989. In 1985, 975 000 ha were totally degraded because of erosion and 41 100 ha were contaminated with heavy metals. One reason for the contamination of soils with heavy metals is the emissions of ore-processing and metallurgic industries. Although the data is not very fresh, they relate problems that still exist.
    2. Improper irrigation systems have led to the salinization and erosion of cultivated land. Some 28 000-30 000 ha are salinized, and another 40 000 ha are potentially salinized. The total area of irrigated land is 1 185 000 ha. Like other inputs, the use of water has decreased. This pollution of ground and surface waters with nitrates, nitrites, ammonium ions and pesticides continues at lower rater, but is still an ongoing concern, resulting from the incorrect application of mineral fertilizers and plant-protection chemicals. Irrigation equipment and pumping stations have been destroyed. Their restoration has led to a manifold higher price of irrigation water and water fees.
    3. Local pesticide pollution of soils occurs. Inadequate rates of pesticide application, in combination with bad storage, have contributed to pesticide amounts in soils above the maximum, permitted concentrations. The pesticides include some banned chloro-organic insecticides (e.g. hexachloran heptachlor, aldrin, dieldrin and edrine). The amount of pesticides applied decreased sharply between 1994 and 1997 for the same reason as the fertilizer decrease, i.e. prices have been too high. During the land privatization and the liquidation of the old structures, the problem of pesticide storage, protection and controlled application arose, as well as their destruction when they were no longer fit to be used. Cases were recorded in which outdated chemical preparations were removed from their original packaging and offered for sale.
    4. Manure contributes to soil and water pollution because of improper storage, because the total number of animals has decreased sharply.
As a whole, there are quite a few trends in Bulgarian farming systems and industry that are not sustainable. In the following section, the constraints on revising these trends are reviewed.

Major constraints on more efficient and sustainable development of farming units

Bentcheva and Georgiev mention the many constraints on increasing productivity and sustainability at farm level. A summary of these follow:

    1. Land privatization has not yet been completed. As a result, the users of lands do not have property rights to them and are not interested in making investments for their long-term improvement. The absence of property rights also seems to be the main reason for the absence of a land market in the country. Private farming development to a great extent depends on leasing rather than on the market for selling land. Full privatization accompanied by working laws are needed.
    2. The financial capacity of farmers is severely limited, which decreases the possibilities to take care of farm productivity. Necessary inputs like fertilizers, seeds, water fees, machines are not affordable. The machine parks are worn out and obsolete. The productive potential of the soil and productivity in general will decrease as a consequence. One should note that one of the main environmental problems, acidification of soil, could be eased by liming the soil. Excessive expenses, in combination with unsure property rights, probably decrease the initiative of landowners to lime the land.
    3. The professional qualifications and production experience of landholders is not good enough for the organization and management of agriculture. Furthermore, some landowners live in towns far away from the holdings. A large number of small farmers produce only for home consumption. The capacities of farmers can be increased by more effective training, education and extension activities, which rely upon research results.
    4. Lack of credit is severe. The bulk of small- and medium-sized producers are very limited financially, while the few large producers and co-operatives seem to have access to formal bank credit and in addition are supported by credit from the State Fund for Agriculture (FAO 1999b).
    5. The old export market, the Soviet Union, has been lost. The EU’s new export quotas are insufficient to stimulate production. This situation negatively affects the financial possibilities of producers.
An additional constraint is a severe lack of reliable farm data, according to Bachev (Bachev, 1999). There seems to be a lack of information regarding what the organizational structure of farms are. There is no specific data on various types of farms, and there are gaps in the data on a number of rural-development aspects such as sustainability, environmental issues, animal welfare, income level, distribution of wealth and the living standards of the rural population. It is common that different institutions present different and sometimes contradictory data. Samples tend to be very small.

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