Macedonia - High Nature Value Farming
Similar to other East European and Mediterranean countries Macedonia has a very high biodiversity created and maintained by the low intensity and traditional farming practices. Their distribution in the country is largely determined by the agro-ecological zones.
|Landscape:||Floodplains and undulating hills|
|Landscape:||Transitioning from highland plains to undulating hills and mountain slopes|
|Landscape:||Deep and mountainous interspersed with areas of highland plains|
|Elevation:||1100m to greater than 2250 m.a.s.l.|
The Mediterranean zone has a high potential for irrigated agriculture and more intensive arable production with good conditions for vegetable production and grape growing. Having in mind, the small average size of family farms, the land use represents a particular patchwork. However, it is rarely of high nature value since it makes a full use of the available arable land with little or no landscape features or other semi-natural habitats.
On the other hand, the continental and alpine zones host large farmland areas of high nature value: the majority of pastures are within these two zones which is at least 0,5 million ha of natural and semi-natural grasslands. Both cattle and sheep and goats graze on pastures from early spring to late autumn.
The farming conditions in the continental zone are highly diverse. This zone includes the main regions for cereal production as well as areas for fruit growing, vegetable production and both intensive and extensive livestock production and breeding.
The small scale mosaic landscapes (HNVF type 2) in Macedonia are mostly found within the continental zone. It comprises family gardens around settlements, small traditional orchards and standing trees, and household vineyards. Many local varieties of vegetable and fruits are still grown in the family gardens near or in the villages in a very extensive way. Traditional orchards represented mainly by pears, apples and plums, and vineyards are grown mostly for own consumption. It is estimated that the mixed farm land use is around 65.000 ha (12% of UAA, excluding pastures).
The Alpine zone is best utilized for summer grazing for livestock (mainly sheep) and forestry as well as for extensive crop production in lower elevation areas, including oats, rye and potatoes.
Threats to pastures
The good status of the pastures depends on the continuation of the extensive livestock grazing. Currently most of the pastures are under-grazed and abandoned due to the decrease of livestock in the recent years: 10% in cattle (2007 compared to 2001) and 28 % of the sheep and goats.
This decrease led to the expansion of shrubby vegetation (e.g. Juniper and wild blueberry) and loss of the heterogenety of the grass communities, change in the composition of herbaceous vegetation and degradation of the humic layer.
Table 1: Number of animals in Macedonia (2001-2007), NSI 2005, 2007
|Cattle||265 266||241 257||-10%|
|Sheep & Goats||1 285 099||926 977||-28%|
Governance and use of pastures
Almost all pastures in Macedonia (and particularly the mountain pastures) belong to the state. Their management is regulated by the Law on Pastures (2000). The overall governance is delegated to the Public Enterprise for Pasture Management (a State body).
Each year a call for tender is launched for the use of the pastures. The usage rights are allocated following natural boundaries according to the capacity of the pastures. Pastures above 1200 m are grazed mainly in summer months (from May to October). Contracts are signed for a period of five years and the farmers pay a fee per head for the right to use the pasture.
In reality the leased pastures are often used by other farmers since there are no physical barriers around them. This is very common in the lowland pastures and in pastures near villages.
If the herd increases above the carrying capacity of the currently-rented pasture during the year, the farmer or shepherd has to apply during the next year for a new pasture for the excess animals. Usually, the new pasture is in a different place and officially the farmer has to split the herd.
In 2000, a programme for the management of pastures (2000-2009) was approved. It was based on inventories of the carrying capacity of almost 60% of the pastures (carried out by the Forestry Institute on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture). The programme described the different pasture blocks: their soils, sward composition, water availability, geological characteristics, whether they are winter or summer pastures and the ameliorative measures to be undertaken during the coming years. The proposed measures focused on clearing unwanted vegetation; the construction or reconstruction of shelters, drinking pools (watering places) and paths to the remote pastures; the protection of pastures from ploughing and afforestation; fertilization in some areas. No direct measures for biodiversity conservation were envisaged in the programme. Most of the measures remain on paper only.
Recently, many farmers have been complaining about the way pastures are managed. Due to lack of funds, the Public enterprise is now only collecting fees from farmers without carrying out any ameliorative measures on the pastures. The watering places and animal shelters are almost derelict and new ones have not been erected. Paths to remote pastures have not been kept clear and cannot be used. The overall result is a big loss of grazing area and semi-natural habitats due to shrub and tree invasion.
HNV Farming systems
Cattle, sheep and goats are grazed on large areas of semi-natural and natural pastures almost all of the year. During the winter, flocks and herds are moved to the plain areas in the central part of Macedonia. There are, for example suckler cow systems based on crosses with at least 20% of the traditional local breed (Busha).
Sheep farming plays a very important role in the livestock sector. Semi-nomadic, using dual-purpose breeds, sheep are mainly found in the mountain areas on the northern, western and eastern borders. Sheep farms are usually family-owned, though there has recently, there has been a trend to establish more commercially-oriented units. The main products of the traditional sheep system are lambs and processed milk products, such as soft white sheep cheese (sirenje), yellow sheep cheese (kashkaval), sour milk, curds and whey. Fresh and dried salted mutton (pastrma) and wool are in comparison minor by-products. These systems are clearly HNV farming (Type 1).
Another practice which depends on semi-natural areas is the collection of wild berries, mushrooms and plants, which in some areas accounts for up to 85% of the income of the rural population. Whether this could be considered as a farming system is doubtful, but it is certainly a very important socio-economic link between people and HNV farmland and forests.
Small scale family gardens (around settlements) and small traditional orchards are still managed in a very extensive way; tomatoes and peppers are the main crops. A proportion of the products are marketed. Small parcels of traditional varieties of apples, pears, plums and vineyards are grown in family gardens or near the villages. Fruit growing is also combined with honey production. Such systems contrast with the intensive fruit and vegetable production methods which are becoming ever-commoner is some of the flatter valleys of the south-east.
Intensive cereals cover around 39.7% of the arable area and are found mainly on the fertile lowlands. Some of these lowland areas (e.g. Pelagonia IBA, 89% arable) have significant populations of bird species such as lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni), European roller (Coracias garrulous); lesser-grey shrike (Lanius minor).
Examples of some of the HNV farming systems requiring special and targeted support in Macedonia, Photos: Zoran Naletoski
Grasslands represent 51% of the agricultural land in Macedonia and the majority of them are permanent pastures with low productivity. Almost all pastures in Macedonia are state owned and farmers have to pay for using them.
High mountain pastures in western Macedonia (Šar, Bistra, Stogovo, Korab, Krčin and Dešat) are traditionally used for sheep grazing in the summer. The size of sheep folds is 500–1000 heads on average. In recent years there is a continuous decrease in the number of animals resulting in pastures abandonment.
Food processing in sheepfolds (bachila)
32 sheepfolds (bachila) existed in Bistra mountain. Today, only 9 or 10 are still used in the summer due to the decrease of livestock. Livestock breeding and processing of meat and dairy products are done in a traditional way using mainly manual work.
Only in the winter sheep are moved close to the villages and kept in barns (shtali).
Extensive use of grasslands by subsistence and semi-subsistence farmers
The current structure of livestock production in Macedonia is comprised of a large number of individual farm producers whose production is mainly for their own consumption and an increasing number of commercially-oriented family farms.
The livestock of small farmers are usually grazed around the villages almost throughout the year (summer-winter grazing) and are additionally fed with hay and concentrate.