New Future for Rural Producers at Zadar’s Local Farmers Market

It’s been little more than a year since the Farmers Market was first opened in Croatia’s Zadar County in September 2013, but in that short time the market project has established itself as a model for rural regeneration.

Hundreds of residents of Zadar now regularly flock to the market each Saturday morning to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and other produce directly from local farmers who previously struggled to find an outlet for their goods.

Established with the support of UNDP and the County of Zadar, the new Farmers' Market has provided a much-needed boost to the incomes of local farmers, while at the same time providing top-quality produce at reasonable prices for consumers seeking healthy alternatives to imported food sold in retail chains.

“We first came here because we were looking for fresher and healthier fruit and vegetables,” says one local couple browsing the stalls at the Farmer’s Market, “And we’ve kept coming back every week. Not just because the food is such high quality but because it’s a friendlier place than the big shops. There’s a sense of community and it gives us a good feeling to know we’re supporting local farmers.”

Tourists, too, join the bustle of shoppers from Zadar, attracted to the organically farmed products on sale and the market’s uniquely local atmosphere. “Supermarkets are pretty much the same everywhere,” says a visitor from Germany, “But local markets are always unique. It’s a much more interesting experience—and the quality of the food is superb.’ 

Supporting rural producers 

The idea of setting up the Farmers Market emerged from a long-standing partnership between UNDP in Croatia and Zadar County to improve the socio-economic prospects of the country’s rural areas. This partnership has focussed on strengthening the region’s traditional agriculture to help restore the livelihoods of local farming families.

“Two of the major challenges for small-scale farmers in this region are the problems of finding suitable outlets for their products and of competing with big retail chains that offer cheap imports,” explains Sandra Vlasic, UNDP Head of Office. “The fruit and vegetables offered by local farmers are of exceptional quality, many of them produced organically. But until we set up the Farmers’ Market the farmers could only sell them on roadside stalls. The needs of big retail chains for regular supplies of high volumes of produce at rock-bottom prices simply can’t be met by small-scale farmers. The prices they offer aren’t even sufficient to cover the costs of production.”

To meet these challenges, UNDP and the County of Zadar jointly invested nearly USD 34.000 in the necessary infrastructure to make the market a viable option for local farmers, including stalls and refrigerators, as well as promotional activities and materials to market the new brand. UNDP further undertook direct management for the first three months to help ensure the market’s sustainability. 

Quality Control 

A crucial aspect in ensuring the success of the Farmers Market was the selection of local farmers able to guarantee a high quality of produce. In this task the project partnership was able to draw on the success of its training courses for local farmers.

Aimed at helping local farmers prepare for the economic challenges of Croatia’s entry into the EU in July 2013, these courses included certified training in cheese-making, fruit and vegetable growing, olive harvesting and beekeeping, as well as sheep and goat breeding.

Through the growing expertise of local farmers in organic farming, combined with strict product control and joint marketing, the Farmers Market has earned a strong reputation for its organic produce. In a recent survey conducted by UNDP, 28% of customers said their reason for shopping at the Farmers Market was the availability of organic products. 

Location – shortening the supply chain 

Highlights

  • In little more than a year, the market project has established itself as a model for rural regeneration.
  • The idea of setting up the Farmers Market emerged from a long-standing partnership between UNDP in Croatia and Zadar County to improve the socio-economic prospects of the country’s rural areas.

Another key factor in ensuring the success of the Farmers Market was the selection of its location. One of the aims of the project to help rural producers by providing them with more direct contact with their customers, overcoming the need to sell through middle agents. In this way, by shortening the supply chain between agricultural producers and their customers, the project reduces producers’ losses in profit and transport costs.

 “The practice in the EU is increasingly to create short supply chains,” explains Danijel Segaric, Head of the Department of Agriculture in Zadar County, “Because this is a way to help small producers deal with the problems of marketing their products. For a long time they have been forced to sell their products to wholesale distributors or to enter the market on their own, with no guarantee of success. And one obviously effective way to shorten supply chains is through supporting the development of local farmers’ markets. These markets also bring a wide range of other benefits for local communities, including jobs and increased environmental awareness.”

The location chosen for the Farmers Market in Zadar was in line with these aims of cutting costs for rural producers and maximizing their opportunities for sales. This meant ensuring a place with easy accessibility by car and with existing overhead shelter. The project partnership agreed to a generous offer from the management of SuperNova to locate the market, free of charge, in a covered section of its large parking lot—a lively area lined with restaurants and cafes. 

A local hit 

“I’ve come here every Saturday from the beginning,” says 59-year-old Marica Jakolis, a local organic farmer with a stall at the new Farmers Market in Zadar. “It’s a lot more than just a place to sell our products—it’s a lifeline for us. All the promotion efforts and the product control have given the Farmers Market a reputation for fresh high-quality products. Our customers like buying their fruit and vegetables directly from the producers. And we prefer it because we get direct feedback on quality and prices.”

Zvijezdana Klecina, now making a busy trade in mushrooms at the Farmers Market, says she has been waiting years for such an opportunity: “The Farmers' Market has been my salvation! Farming mushrooms is a really complicated process—more like working in a laboratory! So it’s incredibly helpful to have access to customers who appreciate high quality mushrooms and the support we have in promoting the quality of our products.”

Ivana Laginja, manager of UNDP’s field office in Zadar, says the project has exceeded even her best expectations.

 “A stable group of producers has been formed who come to the market regularly and offer fresh produce even in this winter period. They quickly got used to the new environment and cooperate really well. You can feel that positive spirit on the market.  The amount of products sold has vastly exceeded our expectations, which makes us really happy because it means that the consumers have in this short time recognized the Farmers' Market is a place where one can make quality purchases. The Farmers Market also guarantees that participating producers can have an income that will ensure the sustainability of their family farms.”