Miklos Balasa, here with his son Tomas, has built a new cowshed, where the manure is treated so that nothing leaks out into the groundwater. Sida is supporting a project educating farmers and abattoir workers about the environment.
Photo: Victor Brott
Huge efforts to fulfil new environmental requirements
“I’m very pleased with this investment,” Balassa says.
He proudly shows off his bright new cowshed, which was completed only a few weeks ago. It gives his 200 cows plenty of space to move around and rest.
The cows are fed twice a day in a secluded area in the middle of the shed so that the food does not get mixed in with excrement. A tractor can be driven in with the food without harming the animals and without the risk of injuring people.
The new cowshed gives the cows a better life in many ways, but the new manure treatment facility is the most revolutionary change on Balassa’s farm. Outside the cowshed is a large concrete platform and at the bottom of it a giant manure tank, which holds 2,200 cubic metres of manure. The system is fully sealed and nothing can leak out into the groundwater.
Balassa’s farm is one of the demonstration farms in the Danube River Enterprise Pollution Reduction Project (DREPR). Some farms have been selected to display methods for reducing pollution in the groundwater and in the river. The farmers also receive help to assess how much manure they should use on the farming lands and the best times to fertilize.
Balassa has also been on study trips to Canada and Germany, and on a course in Belgrade.
The Global Environment Facility (GEF), which is managed jointly by the UN’s environmental programme, the UN’s development programme and the World Bank, accounts for the largest share of the DREPR’s budget of almost SEK 180 million. The Serbian state also provides money but the farmers have to pay some of the cost themselves.
Sida is contributing a total of SEK 30 million over four-and-a-half years to the DREPR. The aim is to reduce the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus from large farms and slaughterhouses in Serbia.
Water pollution increasing
The Danube is the second-largest river in Europe after the Volga. Its source is in Germany and it flows 2,860 kilometres through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria on its way to the Black Sea. The Danube Delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
About 10 million people are dependent on the river for their drinking water.
The quality of the water has constantly deteriorated in recent decades, particularly because of excessive fertilization. It is becoming increasingly expensive to treat the river water to produce drinking water. The pollution means that the water also carries diseases, such as salmonella and Shigella. The groundwater is also polluted.
Serbia has begun the task of adapting its legislation to the EU and has adopted several environmental laws that govern manure handling, as well as other areas.
Serbia is responsible for the highest levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in the Danube in the region and has signed international agreements to reduce discharge into the river. The situation is particularly bad in the areas around Novi Sad, where Miklos Balassa’s farm lies. The groundwater there is high and there are many large farms with lots of animals as well as 240 slaughterhouses. The project covers three additional areas: Pozarevac, Sabac and Vrbas.
The new cowshed, concrete platform and the large manure tank have cost almost SEK 3.4 million. The DREPR, which Sida is supporting, has contributed 80 per cent of the costs of building the new shed, with Balassa paying the remaining costs. The farm has been in the Balassa family’s possession for 100 years. Miklos is the third generation and his son Tomas, who has just finished school, has begun working on the farm.
“I have a lot of hope for the future. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have made this investment. I think my cows will be healthier now and produce better milk,” Miklos says.
Environmental commitment at an early stage
Aleksandar Repcek, project manager for the DREPR in Novi Sad and Vrbas, says: “Thinking ecologically is something that the farmers accept, but they’re not very aware of environmental problems. It’s more a case of them just adapting to Serbia’s new laws and regulations.”
Repcek has been working with the DREPR project for three years, though he has been wrestling with the problem for most of his life.
“In the beginning, the farmers were a little suspicious about the project,” he says. “But now I get calls from farmers every day asking what they have to do get involved.”
The project aims to cover 60 farms. Measurements to show the effect of the investments on the groundwater and on the pollution in the Danube have not yet been done.