World Bank, the (WB)
Mirjana Popovic, Public Information Services Assistant in the World Bank Belgrade Office, offers this story.
One-third of Aleksandar Tisma's land used to be too wet to farm. "Of the 178 hectares that I own, 50 hectares were practically impossible to cultivate. No machinery could work on flooded soil," says Tisma, a farmer from small town in Vojvodina. But since the water that once flooded his wheat and maize farm is now drained away through a repaired drainage canal, things have changed. "Now, after the repair of the canal, I can cultivate that part of my land as well!," he says.
Tisma is one of many farmers who have reclaimed land and increased yields near rivers or canals thanks to repaired drainage canals and improved flood protection. Around Serbia, more than 160,000 hectares have been protected from flooding, and over 300,000 people have directly benefitted from the Irrigation and Drainage Rehabilitation project, supported by a $75 million World Bank loan.
The project aims to reduce the chances of people losing their lives in floods, and cut down the risk of damage to land, crops, property and infrastructure. Major floods in 2006 caused much property damage.
Angelina Taskovic lives in a two story house with her daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters near the Gabrovacka River. The river's embankment was reinforced and heightened.
"We feel much safer now, as there is less risk for the river to swell as much when it rains a lot, or when the snow melts quickly, as it happened twice about ten years ago. We feared flooding," Angelina says.
A recent survey of households in the project area near canals showed that the number of people who had damage on their property from poorly regulated canals has halved—as compared to the time before the works started. At the same time, 63% of those interviewed said the works contributed to personal and family safety, and improved their quality of life.
Repairing drainage canals does more than reclaim land—it allows farmers to irrigate. Novi Knezevac has too little rain during the year, but parts of the municipality could not be farmed because the neglected irrigation channel was clogged, flooding nearby land. Once the channel was repaired, the land could be farmed and watered.
"Yields are higher now," says Ljubomir Savin. "They were 3.5-4 tons before the works, and now are 7 tons. Some farmers have had even higher increases."
Farmers are joining resources to buy irrigation equipment to draw water from rehabilitated canals. Petar Jancic is looking to the future. He says, "Dikes need to be cleaned regularly. And if some of the smaller dikes are cleaned as well, we would have a full effect. We could have two harvests and higher yields every year. We are interested in working with Hungary to better use the Tisa River."
Improved drainage has been completed on about 85,000 hectares. Maintenance of these improved drainage systems will be critical, but although lack of funds is a worry, everyone appreciates the need to keep up this essential agricultural infrastructure.
Project coordinator at the Ministry of Agriculture, Dmitar Zakula, says: "During this project, we have started serious deliberations about maintenance. But if there is something we did not expect, it is to see the extent to which our domestic companies have learned and improved through this project's tender processes, and they are now able to compete for both domestic projects, and projects abroad."
Agriculture accounts for about 12% of Serbia's GDP, and slightly less than a quarter of its exports. To be more competitive, including in the European Union markets, farms need to increase productivity and yields. Reducing damage from flooding and increasing irrigation brings Serbian farmers one step closer to that goal. And it increases the safety of those living near river beds and dykes.