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
in Bulgaria are the following:
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.
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.
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.
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
Manure contributes to soil and water pollution because of improper
storage, because the total number of animals has decreased sharply.
Major constraints on more efficient and sustainable development of
Bentcheva and Georgiev mention the many constraints on increasing productivity
and sustainability at farm level. A summary of these follow:
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.