EU helping farms become more productive and agriculture more resilient

The fragmentation of agricultural land has been one of the greatest challenges for the agriculture in North Macedonia, impacting negatively on the productivity of farms and preventing their modernisation. An EU-funded project is helping land consolidation – a precondition for a more prosperous agricultural sector. Together with financing agricultural infrastructure that will make farming more resilient to climate change.

Mirjana Kapkoska-Angeleska is a woman farmer from the village of Dabjani (Dolneni Municipality). She inherited property from her grandfather, following the denationalisation of agricultural land. But she could hardly farm her land, as it consisted of 65 parcels scattered across the field. Thanks to the EU-funded MAINLAND (Mainstreaming of the National Land Consolidation) project, all her parcels are now consolidated in one – eight hectares large and regularly shaped parcel.

“Now I have finally brought my land back to agricultural production”, says Mirjana.

The project Mirjana benefitted from is addressing a longstanding issue in the country. Family farms in North Macedonia have low productivity compared to other European countries, mainly because the majority of them are smaller than two hectares and often fragmented into five or more small and difficult-to-manage parcels. This, in combination with outdated agricultural infrastructure, limits on farmers’ potential to scale up production and to shift towards a competitive, modern farming. As a consequence, young people massively migrate from rural areas.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been addressing this issue since 2014 – by helping the authorities introduce land consolidation. The EU stepped in by financing the development of a National Land Consolidation Programme. Through the MAINLAND project, in the past five years and with co-financing from FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy implemented the first round of land consolidation projects - something that paved the way for the structural land reform and for extending the National Land Consolidation Programme.

After scanning the situation in 14 rural areas, the project developed concrete land consolidation plans for nine areas (Konche, Egri, Logovardi, Optichari, Trn, Dabjani, Kozhle, Sokolarci and Spanchevo), covering parcels owned by 6,300 farmers. As a result, the number of parcels in these areas has now halved at least.

The best example is the village of Egri, where 874 small pieces of land have turned into 260 bigger ones, with the average size growing to 1.3 hectares from only 0.38 before the consolidation. In addition, the EU invested half a million euros in agricultural infrastructure (new drainage channels, field roads and extended irrigation network). Ljupcho and Keti Angelovski, family farmers from Egri, say that thanks to the project, they were able to consolidate 15 small parcels into three bigger parcels. This, together with access to better infrastructure, motivated them to modernise their machinery and increase their yields (wheat and maize, but also peppers and melon) by at least 30%. “Access to irrigation water will make us less vulnerable to climate change. It will also enable us to broaden our crop choices and increase the value of our products for the marketplace”, they say.

Building on MAINLAND’s visible results, the EU is launching another project with at a cost of one million euros from IPA. It will support the Ministry of Agriculture in improving the institutional and regulatory framework on land consolidation, including preparation of a National Strategy for Land Consolidation for the period 2022-2030, and in finalising land consolidation projects in Dabjani and Chiflik, along with the construction of agricultural infrastructure.