The status quo of dealing with mountain issues in Slovenia

Andreja Borec, University of Maribor, Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Slovenia.

Slovenia is a mountainous country with 72,3% of its territory defined as LFA (Areas of Less Favourable Farming). Most of northern part is dominated by the Alps, that reach their southeastern limit of distribution in Slovenia by forested plateau of Pohorje.

Slovenia, a mountain country
Slovenia is a mountainous country with 72,3% of its territory defined as Area of less favourable farming. Image: Public Domain

 

All distinct of alpine mountains in Slovenia (Julian Alps, Kamnik-Savinja Alps and Karavanke) are included in Alpine Convention which occupy 33,4% of total Slovenian territory. In south and south west of Slovenia the Alps meet the Dinaric mountains that run south-eastwards right through Balkans. Next to Alpine and Dinaric mountains hilly regions in the middle of Slovenia and Mediterranean hills are also considered as LFA Mountains.

Almost 82% of all UAA (Utilized Agricultural Area) is located on Less Favourable Farming mountains, which is cultivated by roughly 80% of all farms of Slovenia. These are in general medium-sized farms and it is precisely these farms that contribute the most to self-sufficiency.

Slovenia, a mountain country
LFA mountains and Natura 2000 sites. Mountain area = brown. Bird Directive = blue. Habitat Directive = green. Source: GERK, 2020. Image: Andreja Borec

 

We are witnessing the decline of UAA in mountains which is related to agricultural land abandoned. More stable, but still slight decline is perceived on the number of holdings. This only slight decline is related to more diversified incomes on mountain farms. The mountain farms are diversifying their incomes by self-employment (supplementary activities, mostly linked to forest management and services) and by off-farm employment outside the agricultural household mostly because of limited incomes from the farming. The self-employment contributes to higher incomes in comparison with agriculture as well as to a higher quality of employment (Bonjec, Š., 2010).

The agricultural factor income per worker (FNVA/AWU in FADN, the Farm Accountancy Data Network) is on average lover in mountain areas and present only 45% of income not on LFA.

In Slovenia more than 33% of agricultural output is produced in mountains (Santini, F., 2013).

In terms of mountain products dairy products predominate, the milk sector in mountains present 38,9%. Higher prices of mountain products in Slovenia are linked to higher cost not to high quality, thus mountain products do not express desirable added value. In April 2015 Slovenia has adapted its national legislation to integrate the OQT (Optional Quality Term) mountain product. For the time being, the ministry did not introduce any prescribed logo or any requirement on the size of the font used on packaging. Currently, there is only one known farmer, producing fresh beef meat, registered as using the Optional Quality Term (Euromontana, 2017). According to the opinion of Ministry of Agriculture, forestry and food representative, the main reason is that farmers are not enough informed about this scheme, but so far no campaign on state or municipalities level about schemes, applicants, logos and procedures has been planned. This is an important weakness as more than one third of products are coming from mountains, and the products are marketed in regional cities and tourism centers with any information about the origin.

Slovenia, a mountain country
Overgrowing process in the Slovenian Alps. Image: Andreja Borec

 

In addition, no studies or analysis where conducted regarding labeling of mountain products, also in general rare studies to analyze structural changes in the mountainous areas are available.

Concerning agricultural production system, livestock farming predominates, often extensive, as only herbivorous animals can take advantage of the voluminous forage from the meadows. Due to the natural conditions in the mountains, biodiversity rich grasslands predominate and are mostly included in the Natura 2000 network.  Analysis of objectives of Operational management programme for Natura 2000 shows that the period 2007–2013 was not successful, because the objectives were achieved only in 11% of Natura 2000 sites (general data).

Furthermore, in mountains we face also the well-known problems related to climate change (the melting of glaciers, loss of snow, increased floods, change of plant species and change of ecosystem services in general. In addition to agriculture, energy production, forestry, tourism will also suffer).

According to negative development trends in most mountain issues (particular agriculture) and due to the large range of LFA mountains, we would expect increased interest of the scientific and general public and the grow of good analytics for LFA mountains.

But, in state administration, government and government offices lack of mountain engagement could be found, even in state statistics rare data related to mountain areas are available.

Our opinion is that the structural data for the LFA mountains would significantly improve the view on situation in different mountain territories od Slovenia. We can draw some parallels from the general data on state level, but we must not be misled of such information’s.

Not only is the lack of data identified as a shortcoming. The next is that very few funded national scientific projects related particular to mountains are found. From public available sources (from 2004 to 2020) only 12 scientific mountain relating project where found (with key words used: mountain*, agriculture*, LFA*, Alps*, Dinarides*) among them 6 where linked to Alps, 2 to Dinarides, and only one for each other descriptor.

Further, looking to the published work in Slovenia between 2004-2020 the situation is similar. For the analysis of published work, we used the descriptors both in English and Slovene language: mountain and agriculture*, mountain* and area*, mountain* and region*. In Slovene language the words hill, hilly area, hilly region (between 200 to 500 m relative altitude) are often in use, therefore we included them as descriptors. Interesting is, that in general the descriptor hill agriculture* was used 105 times, mountain agriculture* only 31 times. The publications are, according to the selected descriptors, as follows: for the descriptor mountain and agriculture* 26 scientific papers, 28 diploma, master and doctoral thesis, 14 books, reports, studies, proceedings. The number of publications with the same descriptors only in Slovene language is the same, only some more diploma and master thesis where found. According to the content, the majority of publications are focused to forest and/or specific tree species, on the second place we found publications related to socio economic characteristics of mountain farms, but only few related to mountain policy and mountain products (only 2 publications).

We were also interested on how the descriptors like mountain and agriculture*, mountain region* hill* (in Slovene language) are present in the tree largest mainstream media portals: “24 ur.com”, “rtvslo.si” and “nova24tv.si”. The short look revealed that by all portals the number of articles related to mountain agriculture is below 5. By the key word mountain region* and hill region* the number is higher (e.g. by “24ur.com” the number is 25) but we have to take into account, that among them the majority are news connected to accidents in the mountains, news from mountains out of Slovenia, etc.

The Kmečki glas (Eng. Peasant Voice) is the leading publishing house for agriculture publishing newspapers, magazines and books – in particular original Slovene titles. In the group of books, no hit was found with defined descriptors.

In addition, higher education institutions do not offer any study programs nor particular study subject related to mountains.

This quick look reveals to us that topics related to mountains areas in Slovenia are somehow neglected both on scientific as on general public level. Indeed, criticism from different sources stated that the situation could be much better, if the LFA mountains on national level would get more general attention and public validity and/or to be perceived as independent discipline or branch with good analytics behind.