Rural Economy & Entrepreneurship – Bulgaria

1. Agriculture

Bulgaria is renowned for sheep’s milk cheese, oriental tobacco, wine, rose attar (used in perfumery), vegetables, fruit, medicinal herbs, and, particularly, natural yogurt. The temperate climate, abundant arable land, and soil conditions support the farming of both livestock and crops (grains, oil seeds, sugar beets, vegetables, grapes, fruit), but the country was affected by drought in the late 1990s and into 2000. Tobacco is among the most important of Bulgaria’s crops, contributing nearly 20 percent to the value of agricultural goods. The principal timber areas are in the Rila, Rhodope, and Balkan Mountains.

Although historically a surplus food producer, Bulgarian agriculture was facing a downturn at the turn of the century. Cropland, livestock population, and yields were declining (limited use of fertilizers, however, has led to cleaner rivers and sea water). Animal feed is imported and its shortage has led to distress slaughtering, the killing of livestock in the face of a shortage of feed. The price of agricultural goods is not rising in line with inflation. Imported subsidized vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and meat from the EU adversely affect local producers. Restitution of collective farmland to private owners has been complicated and considerable collective farm assets were lost in the process. New private holdings are too small and can only be serviced with technical equipment or irrigated if their owners band together, but such efforts are proving slow to develop.

Price liberalization should encourage more output, especially as income gradually rises. Agriculture has the potential to make Bulgaria again basically self-sufficient in grains, and prospects are excellent for further increases in hard currency earnings from wine and dairy products, particularly cheese.

According to NSI data, entrepreneurship activity has increased in recent years. The going concerns are 37 more in 2016 compared to 2015. The highest activeness is observed in professional activities (+15), real estate operations (+15) and other activities (+11), followed by transport (+9) and hotels (+4). In contrast, there was a decline in entrepreneurial activity in agriculture and forestry (–9), manufacturing (–4) and construction (–4). However, business revenue in 2016 declined by 3.95% from 2015. This is mainly due to construction and transport activities. The reason for this is the market situation and the lack of new investments, especially in the hotel and restaurant industry.

2. Livestock

Traditionally developed livestock breeding and processing of animal products is one of the strengths of Bulgaria.

Livestock products Bulgaria are cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and other. Yield total of approximately 250,000 tons of milk, 211 thousand tons of meat and 1.2 million eggs.

Bulgaria’s livestock industry in 2019 had significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It drove Bulgaria’s total 2019 swine inventory down by 25 percent and the number of swine farms by 74 percent. While most backyard farmers have stopped raising pigs, commercial hog production has rebounded somewhat in 2020. 2020 was considered a recovery year for Bulgarian pork, and the national beef herd. Consumer demand for many animal proteins has softened during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, particularly due to the destabilization of the hotel, restaurant, and institutional (HRI) industry. Although meat retail sales have been more resilient, the HRI downturn is expected to result in lower red meat consumption and trade. Furthermore, the Bulgarian demand for meat is expected to rebound in 2021.

3. Employment

The main challenge for employers is the changing structure of the labor market and the liberalization of labor force engagement with a given territory or national economy. It appears that as a result of the on–going economic globalization, human labour (including low–skilled labour) relocates faster than production and causes a serious imbalance in supply and demand.

All participants in the survey for the Current Situation Analysis Research complained about the inability to retain their employees who prefer to work abroad and spend their money in Bulgaria. There seems to be a new structure and culture of working life which has been defined as “international employment tourism”. More and more people, especially from the younger generation, rediscover the age–old traditions of temporary work abroad and choose to practice various forms of seasonal work where periods of intense work abroad alternate with periods of “rest” at home. These new educators are resistant to traditional forms of labour discipline and capitalist exploitation, which puts employers in the challenge of seeking new and original approaches to motivating employees.

Along with the unbalanced labour market, employers are confronted with cultural developments among younger generations that is a serious concern for them. The culture of entertainment and enjoyable life, in which free and well–spent time gains higher value at the expense of the pursuit of work and professional realization, secure and rising income and high social status, is rising. An increasing number of young people choose the pleasure and entertainment instead of competition and success. More importantly, in the most part, they can afford to lead this carefree life thanks to the material and moral support they receive from their parents.

Particularly in the agriculture sector employment in Bulgaria was reported at 6.261 % in 2020.

4. Quality

Inefficient situation policy to stimulate Bulgarian producers of quality food is a reality and challenge in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria is following the three regulated categories of foods of a specific nature:  Protected Designation of Origin (PDO); Protected Geographical Indications (PGI); Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG).

The product ‘Bulgarian rose oil’ was granted PDO status on 27 September 2014.

“Strandzhanski manov med”, also called “Manov med ot Strandzha” is a dark brown honey produced in the oak forests of Strandzha massif, in the south-east of Bulgaria. Beekeeping has always been a common activity in the Strandzha region. It is an age-old livelihood, as testified by the bee skeps and stumps which date from the end of the 19th century until today. It was granted PDO status on 3 April 2019.

The protected traditional Bulgarian food, registered at the EU, such as TSG are some products from meat, such as “Fille Elena”, “Lukanka Panagurska”, “Rolle Trapesitsa”, “Kaizerovan crop Trakia”, “Cattle Pastarma” and “Sudjuk Gornoorjahovski”.

5. Fishery

Marine fisheries in Bulgaria originate from the Black Sea. Fisheries – practiced catch of sea and freshwater fish and fish farming in ponds. Bred and hunted aquatic organisms such as sea snails, clams and shrimp. In 2018 the total catch from marine fisheries reached almost 8.600 tonnes, slightly decreasing from previous catch production around 10.000 tonnes. The species composition of catches in 2018 included 37 species of fish, mollusks and crustaceans. The most important species are veined rapa whelk and European sprat which together account for about 80 percent of total production.

Since August 2012, no commercial fishing has been executed in the inland waterbodies of the country, excluding the Danube River, due to an amendment in the national legislation. In 2018, the Danube River fishing fleet caught 54 tonnes of fish. Although production levels from inland fisheries are relatively low, they play an important role at the local level in less developed areas bordering the Danube River as a source of income and employment. Aquaculture in Bulgaria is reported to be 16.342 tonnes in 2018, which is 66 percent in the total fish production of 24.942 tonnes.

Bulgaria is one of the lowest per capita consumers of fish and fishery products in the European Union. Consumption is increasing but continues to be comparatively low, reaching an amount of 7.0 kg per capita in 2013.

Bulgaria is a net importer of fish and fishery products. Imports increased significantly during the last years and in 2019 reached more than USD 132 million. The majority of fish and fishery product imports are in frozen form, with the bulk being mackerel. Export values reached USD 90 million in 2019.

Fleet is characterised by large numbers of small vessels. In May 2011, the Bulgarian fishing fleet in the Black Sea comprises 2332 vessels with a total capacity of 7910 GT and 63 163 kW8.

Twelve Bulgarian fishing ports are currently registered in the Community Fishing Fleet Register, all of them located on the Black Sea coast. At present all Bulgarian fishing ports are state or municipality property. Most of the fleet is concentrated on the southern coast, in the district of Burgas (ca. 57% of the vessels, 56% of the gross tonnage and 61% of the total engine power). The main Bulgarian fishing port is Varna, both in terms of number of vessels (24.7%) and of fleet capacity (34.1% of the total gross tonnage and 27.4% of the total engine power). Burgas is the second Bulgarian fishing port, with 13.2% of the vessels, but, as their individual capacity is higher, it almost equals Varna as regards gross tonnage (31.6%). Other important ports are Nessebar, Sozopol and Tsarevo on the southern Black Sea coast, each of which hosts ca. 9% of the fishing fleet.

6. Research

In Bulgaria participating in research and implementation of international and national practices for innovative projects is an important actor for the research sector.

The research about the agricultural sector can be identified domestically in public research institutions and on a European level in participating in EU research programs.

Public Research Institutions in Bulgaria

  • Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • Medical University of Sofia
  • University of Plovdiv Paisii Hilendarski
  • University of Forestry Sofia
  • Trakia University
  • University of Food Technologies, Plovdiv
  • Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Research Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • Sofia University

Participation in the EU Research programs

Participation in European R&D projects is a great opportunity to gain expertise and use new technologies, supported by European resources. Some EU Research programs in which Bulgaria participates are the following:

·         Interreg V-A – Romania-Bulgaria (Crossborder)

·         Interreg V-A – Greece-Bulgaria (Crossborder)

·         Interreg V-B – Balkan-Mediterranean (Transnational)

·         Interreg V-B – Danube (Transnational)

·         Interreg Europe (Interregional)

·         Interact (Interregional)

·         Urbact (Interregional)

·         ESPON (Interregional)

·         IPA CBC Bulgaria – Turkey (IPA-CBC)

·         IPA CBC Bulgaria – North Macedonia (IPA-CBC)

·         IPA CBC Bulgaria – Serbia (IPA-CBC)