Continuing our blog series about ARDENT partners, we would like to introduce you to the Faculty of Economics in Osijek (EFOS) (Croatia)

Rural depopulation is one of the major challenges in Europe, since population and employment are concentrated in the urban centers. Eastern part of Croatia, beside rural depopulation has experienced also more intensive economic migrations of working-age population after joining European Union in 2013. Their reasons for leaving Croatia, especially eastern part of Croatia are unemployment or, when employed, not being able to secure enough financial resources for their families. At the same time, in eastern Croatia there are still 419 km2 fields (mostly in rural areas) polluted with mines (data from 2017), remained after the Homeland war (1991-1995) – it also pollutes the life of people leaving in rural regions and additionally “motivates” people to find their existence somewhere else.

According to the Croatian Agriculture Chamber’s data, Croatian agriculture sector has been characterized by small family farms that have less than 10 ha (89,4%), focused mainly on producing corn, wheat, barley and rye for the state’s reserves. Being so heavily dependent on state’s reserves, the farmers are much less market oriented and less focused on recognizing opportunities in production based on agricultural raw materials. For the comparison purposes (according to EUROSTAT data), average firm size in Croatia is 5,6 ha, while in EU is 14,4 ha. In Croatia, number of the workforce older than 15 in agriculture, forestry and fishing is 14,9%, while EU average is 5,2% (only Romania has higher percentage than Croatia – 30,1%). Farming in Croatia is based on family members – usually by a farmer and/or member of the family) much more than in the EU 27 (90,7% of the labour input provided by a farmer and/or a member of the family vs. 76,4% in EU 27). 

Program for rural development in Croatia 2014-2020 emphasizes the need for securing more jobs in agriculture, sustainability, modernization, innovation and quality. In order to achieve those goals Croatian agriculture sector needs stronger cooperation between producers, coarsening of family farms firms, but also marketing strategy and change of producers’ focus. The aforementioned goals cannot be achieved only through research and development in agriculture but demands interdisciplinary approach.

Faculty of Economics in Osijek has always been using regional lenses in dealing with issues hindering a  stronger economic and sustainable development of the region. Having one of the most successful programs in entrepreneurship on all educational levels (undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate) which is built on the experiential learning concept, the Faculty of Economics in Osijek works intensively on building more favorable entrepreneurial ecosystem in eastern Croatia. ARDENT project represents excellent base for sharing the knowledge and competences in both directions: from HEIs to the adults in rural communities and from rural communities to faculty and students at the Faculty of Economics in Osijek. Through the project we expect to strengthen participants of the program  for recognizing and using opportunities that rural regions offer through different support projects but also through cooperation and joint appearance on the market that can lead towards new employment opportunities and improved quality of life  in rural regions.

Experiences in the project will additionaly enrich experiential dimension of the entrepreneurship curricula at the Faculty of Economics in Osijek  with examples of good practice, but also to extend  the competences of the students in agriculture at the J.J. Strossmayer Univesity in Osijek in the direction of better understanding opportunities in developing rural communities.