This support system is focused on sustainable agriculture and is funded with grant from the European Social Fund.
Based on the Agricultural survey 2013 data, almost 50% of the agricultural land of Split- Dalmatia County is not used, while the average unemployment rate in rural areas of the County is 35%. Dalmatian hinterland and the islands suffer from continuous depopulation trends as well as population ageing. Today only 7% of the SDC inhabitants live on islands, while only 23% live in the hinterland. Agricultural production is characterised by inadequate skills and low-value addition, as well as the lack of entrepreneurial skills by farmers. Agricultural population is characterised by poor age and educational structure, with an average of only 6% of people younger than 40 involved in the production. The average youth unemployment in Dalmatian hinterland is higher than 40%, with the strong depopulation trend. On the other hand, Dalmatia has an exceptionally large number of breeds and varieties, presenting great natural resource for organic agriculture development. Sustainable food consumption and consumer awareness are very low – food is mostly purchased in supermarkets, while the average annual consumption of organic food per capita is 26 euro.
EkoBiz project aimed to increase the interest of young people in entrepreneurship in the organic agriculture sector trough education, business support and development of entrepreneurship skills at the early stage (schools and nurseries) in Split-Dalmatia County. Four sets of activities implemented in the project, have strongly contributed to the increase of motivation of young people for organic business development, have risen capacities and knowledge on organic practices of more than 100 people, provided support for business planning and efficient EAFRD grant usage (15 grants approved in first two calls of young and small farmers, expected indicators for the 2017 second call will double) and has encouraged 10 schools and 10 nursery systems to develop small-scale projects related to food and agriculture. The project has created biggest impact on the level of the capacity building, which is extremely important in organic agriculture, as it is a knowledge-based activity. The success of the project results has been recognised by the local and regional government, particularly Split-Dalmatia County, which has ensured the sustainability of the action trough the regional budget. The training developed during the project is still being implemented under a programme called “The Academy of Organic Agriculture”, currently attended by 40 young people, mostly with high-level of education. Bussines support model for EAFRD grant schemes has been transformed to “one-stop-shop” for organic farmers, managed by Public institution RERA SD. Ten PI RERA SD experts are providing assistance to farmers from farm registration to grant application and implementation.
The innovative character of EkoBiz project is mostly linked to (1) organisational innovation which led to a real increase of interest of young people for entrepreneurship in organics sector, as well strong collaboration with (2) international partners and civil sector. Furthermore, as the aim of the project was to motivate young people, the project decided to collaborate with (3) Creative Industries sector – film and music.
(1) PI RERA SD decided to create the one-stop-shop for organic farmers, providing support from farm establishment to grant application. Furthermore, by hosting YPARD (Young Professionals for Agricultural Development) representative for Croatia and the Association of organic farmers of Dalmatia – Dalmatia EKO in its premises, farmers are directly linked to the existing networks and knowledge. Finally, PI RERA SD is currently training 12 people with different backgrounds (agronomists, chemists, economists) in project management and extension training for future Centre of Competences and Agro-Entrepreneurship 3LJ (first infrastructural phase financed by ERDF with 2 million euro, second phase of 7 million euro has been applied for under OP Competences and Cohesion Priorities 1 and 3) who will provide support for farmers as a specialised regional extension service.
(2) PI RERA SD has strong international collaboration with organisations supporting organic agriculture development – IFOAM Organics International, IFOAM EU and IFOAM Agribiomediteraneo. PM of EkoBiz project is Council Member of IFOAM EU representing interests of Croatian organic farmers related to the new CAP and EC Directive on organic farming. Furthermore, PI RERA SD is collaborating with research institutions supporting organic agriculture (CHIEAM Bari, FiBL), as well as Organic farmers umbrella organisations in EU member states.
(3) As the main focus of EkoBiz project is on young farmers, PI RERA SD decided to make connections with Slowfood movement, Mediterranean Film Festival Split and one of most famous singers on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia, Darko Rundek, who became an ambassador of organic farming of Dalmatia. Activities organised with partners from Creative industries (Slowfood-FMFS movie and concert during EkoFjera) evening made organic farming look even more interesting for young people and has brought additional media attention for the action.
Work with schools and nurseries, as well as the promotion of organic entrepreneurship has also been implemented far beyond the original indicator level. During the project implementation, several NGO’s (Permaculture Dalmatia, Healthy City, Green Spiral) and the Art Faculty of Split joined the activities related to the development of entrepreneurship skills at the early stage. Apart from small-scale projects developed and implemented with schools and nurseries during the project, several bigger projects – mostly related to the introduction of organic food to school/nursery systems, are further developed by PI RERA SD. In May 2016 PI RERA SD was invited to participate FiBL and Deutsche Bundes Umwelstiftung financed project “I have a right to eat healthily”, through which 200 organic meals were provided to 3 partner schools in September.
The impact on the country and regional level has been rather significant, particularly taking into account the amount of funding project had. Split-Dalmatia County is perceived on the national level as a region where youth is attracted to organic farming and other regions are asking for knowledge transfer, which has been done during the promotional campaigns of the project. The results, as well as the sustainability of results, can be contributed to the EkoBiz project, as it has created a momentum for organic agriculture development on both regional and national level. The action has directly contributed to new businesses – 15 during the project via EAFRD funding.
Find out more on: http://www.rera.hr/
 PI RERA SD is a host institution for YPARD (Young Professionals for Agricultural Development) representative for Croatia, as well as the secretariat of the Association of organic farmers of Dalmatia – Dalmatia EKO.