June 4, 2018 / 2:56 PM / 21 days ago

Protesting Serbian raspberry growers block road to Montenegro

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Hundreds of Serbian raspberry producers blocked a main road to neighbouring Montenegro for a third straight day on Monday to press for higher wholesale prices.

Farmers stood in the road just outside the western town of Prijepolje, bringing traffic from Montenegro to a virtual standstill and prompting many drivers to take long detours to avoid the blockade.

Serbia is a major producer of fresh and frozen raspberries, behind Russia, the United States, Poland and Mexico.

The protesters want the state to intervene against wholesale buyers which also own refrigerating facilities, and impose a price rise from around 160 dinars ($1.60) per kg to 180 dinars. Last year’s average wholesale price was around 145 dinars.

“Owners of refrigerators and insurers are plotting behind our backs ... We are slaves in our own plantations, we are working 16 hours every day,” said Radenko Maric, a raspberry grower.

According to official statistics, total production of raspberries was 109,000 tonnes last year and Serbia exported 99,664 tonnes worth 241.1 million euros ($283 million).

Veljko Jovanovic, the head of the Chamber of Commerce’s Agriculture Department noted the price was set by the market, both foreign and domestic.

He also told Reuters that stringent sanitary requirements for shipments to the European Union, which Serbia wants to join, are also adding to exporters’ expenses.

The government has formed a committee to address the problem. Jovanovic said he hoped the talks between farmers and wholesale buyers would start in the coming days.

($1 = 0.8527 euros) ($1 = 100.4100 Serbian dinars)

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by David Stamp

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