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THE WESTERN BALKANS - NORTH MACEDONIA
North Macedonia is located in the south-western part of the Balkan Peninsula. The country has a mountainous territory (79%) covered by deep basins and valleys (19%) and three large lakes (close to 2%). The mountains in the east are part of the old group of Rhodope Mountains, while in the west the mountains are part of the young Dinaric group boasting with the highest peak in North Macedonia - Golem Korab (2,764 m). The largest plain is the Pelagonian Plain, covering an area of 4,000 km². North Macedonia has three overlapping climatic zones that also determine the main bio-geographic and agro-ecological zones: Mediterranean, continental and mountainous.
Agriculture in North Macedonia
Agriculture accounts for 13% of GDP in North Macedonia. Agricultural practices are very diverse due to the specific mix of climate and relief, culture, and traditions. In the last decade, the way of utilization and soil coverage are constantly changing: forestsurface areas increase significantly, while pasturesurface areas constantly decrease. At the same time, the average size of farms remains stable at about 2.5 - 2.8 ha per farm. This is explained by the fact that this figure represents only private agricultural land on family farms. Large cooperatives and companies are considered separately. In addition, pastures are treated as means of public interest and are therefore managed by the Public Enterprise for Pasture Management, and as a result, pastures used by farmers are not taken into account in these estimates.
Agricultural land of high nature value in North Macedonia
Grasslands in North Macedonia are mostly natural and semi-natural. Most are located in the mountainous areas - Shar Mountain, Bistra, Korab, Jakupica, Suva Gora and others. The mosaic landscape of low production volume is characterized by family gardens, small traditional orchards, individual trees, as well as vineyards within the households. Local varieties are still grown in family gardens in a very extensive way. Traditional orchards (mainly pears, apples, and plums) and vineyards grown for own consumptionare also typical.
Intensively cultivated cereals are found in lowland with fertile soil and cover about 39.7% of the total arable land. Some of them are important for about 33 species of birds from Annex 1 of the Birds Directive.
Bovines, sheep, and goats live in large areas of semi-natural and natural pastures in mountain areas throughout almost the entire year. During winter, herds migrate to the plains of central North Macedonia. The extensivegrazing-based keeping of cattle is practiced by both individual farmers for their personal use and market-oriented family farms. Sheep breeding is semi-nomadic and has a long tradition in FYROM. It is most often carried out in mountainous areas along the border of the northern, western and eastern parts of the country. The breeds for the combined production of milk and meat are much used.
State pastures management in North Macedonia
Almost all pastures in North Macedonia (and especially mountainous ones) are state-owned. Their management is regulated by the Law on Pastures (2000). General management is delegated to the Public Enterprise for Pasture Management (state body). An invitation to tender for the use of pastures is published annually. User rights are granted in accordance with natural boundaries and pastures capacity. Pastures above 1,200 m are used for grazing mainly in summer months. Contracts are signed for a period of 5 years and farmers pay compensation for use per LSU.
Lately, many farmers have made remarks on how pastures are managed. Due to the lack of funds, the Public Enterprise is currently only collecting farmers' compensations, without implementing any measures to improve pastures. Feeding sites and shelters for animals have nearly collapsed, and new ones have not been erected. Roads to distant pastures are not maintained and cannot be used. The comprehensive result is a great loss of grazing areas and semi-natural habitats due to shrubs and tree invasions. (Source: Stefanova, V., 2010, Pastures in North Macedonia, unpublished working material).
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