22 September 1995

Lessons we can

teach the East

By Tim Relf

FARMERS in Central and East European countries (CEECs) have much to learn from their UK counterparts, according to Cargill public affairs chairman David Nelson-Smith.

"Land structure, lack of a good credit and farm finance system and shortcomings in management and infrastructure all mitigate against an agricultural miracle in eastern Europe," he told last weeks agri-environment conference organised by Brown & Co in Hungary.

Emphasising the positive role west European farmers have to play, he highlighted the need for advice in establishing effective wholesale markets, product standards, rural credit systems and crop insurance schemes.

"The West can also train managers and give money for infrastructure and other projects," he said. "But most of all, it can help with trade by progressively opening the EU to goods from the CEECs."

Mr Nelson-Smith called for a permanent end to "the dumping of food exports in markets which are natural ones for the CEECs to supply".

CEECs planning to join the EU could also learn from the Wests mistakes, he added. For example, too high prices led to over-intensive production, environmental damage and surpluses. The response had been set-aside, which was disliked by farmers and not always environmentally friendly.

But it was not all one-way traffic and UK farmers could also learn from those in the CEECs, suggested Peter Toth, who established one of Hungarys first private agricultural consultancy companies in 1990.

"Our farmers have maintained excellent husbandry skills and general management practice is reasonable," he said.

Factors such as reduced government assistance, lower food demand, especially for livestock products, and inadequate banking and supply sectors had all contributed to the significant decline in agricultural production in Hungary following economic reform in 1989, he said.

But last year, for the first time, agriculture was showing signs of recovery.

Lessons for UK farmers could also be gleaned from the way Hungarian agriculture traditionally had been conducted on a large scale, said Mr Toth. Co-operatives still accounted for over half of agricultural land use in Hungary and farmers made the most of economies of scale.