How Smart Specialisation is boosting the agrifood sector by supporting regional stakeholders

News article |

On the 5th and 6th of October 2021, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) hold the first online thematic Smart Specialisation workshop on interregional cooperation in the Western Balkans with the focal point on the agrifood sector. The workshop aimed at fostering a debate to identify main opportunities and possible challenges in order to strengthen research, innovation and business connections for the six Western Balkans economies in a sector that has been emerging among the most promising ones in the region. 

The event opened with a round table where various main EU institutions and organizations such as DG Near and DG Agri, among others, presented current measures and future policies targeting higher competitiveness in the Western Balkans’ agrifood area through stronger engagement of key regional stakeholders. The challenge of interregional cooperation finds an appealing outlet for discussion in Smart Specialisation and related topics; especially considering the relevance that agrifood has been recently showing in terms of economic, innovative and scientific potential across the entire region. With this purpose in mind, the six Western Balkan economies were invited to participate in a discussion about the latest developments the sector has experienced under a Smart Specialisation perspective.

The second day of the event focused on learning from territorial stakeholders, especially university and business representatives, on how they perceive the existing opportunities for enhancing the potential of the regional markets. The session included a presentation on the study of value chains in the Western Balkans conducted in collaboration with the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw). 

The discussions especially stressed the need to improve competences and skills of the sector in order to go for a non-price competitiveness approach based on high quality products, rather than cheap ones. This means strengthening the connection between the higher education institutions and vocational schools with the labour market in the agrifood sector, and aiming to fulfil the current gap between demand and supply created by high migration rates and non-targeted educational system, among others. Furthermore, the low innovation rate in the region calls for more effective political reforms that push companies, especially Small Medium Enterprises to cooperate more proactively and foster interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral connections. 

The workshop initiated with open remarks by Alesandro Rainoldi, Head of Unit, Joint Research Centre (JRC) and was attended by about 40 people mainly from the six Western Balkan economies. It is expected that similar initiatives will follow in 2022 with a special focus on other relevant sectors in the region.