Perspectives on growth of the agri-food sector in the Western Balkans

Smart Specialisation in the Western Balkans revealed that agri-food features as one of the most common priority areas in the region with the strongest potential for growth.


Although the Smart Specialisation process revealed many strengths, the agri-food sector in the Western Balkans is still facing some common challenges, including lower levels of productivity and product diversification. On the other hand, agri-food stakeholders from the Western Balkan region have the potential to increase the sector’s capacities for innovation and technological development, and redesign agri-food value chains to make these more efficient, competitive, resilient and environmentally friendly. The business sector is a key driver in the structural transformation of agriculture, but the role of the public sector and academia in this process is equally important. Structural transformation of the agri-food sector should stimulate the production of high value products, and enable modernisation and digitalisation, to increase productivity and encourage cross-sectoral synergies and cooperation at the regional level.

Executive summary

After six years of the implementation of the Smart Specialisation approach in the EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood Region, this exercise revealed the first common priority areas in the Western Balkans. Among these, the agri-food priority domain was identified as one the most important economic and innovation drivers of the sustainable competitiveness in the Western Balkan region. The economies of the region engaged a wide array of stakeholders to discuss the findings from the analysis of economic, innovation and scientific potential of the agri-food area and open the dialogue on the policy mix for this area. The mentioned analysis and dialogue revealed many similarities about the strengths and challenges within the region, which were further discussed during the first thematic Smart Specialisation workshop on the agri-food priority domain organised by the Joint Research Centre in 2021. The findings from the analyses and the thematic workshop served as a basis for conducting a study on the R&I strengths and regional potential for inter- and intra-regional collaboration in the agri-food domain.

The implementation of agri-food targeted actions in the Smart Specialisation exercise requires more attention, stronger focus and coherence with overarching goals of sustainable national and regional development. With that in mind, it is recommended to (re-)shape policy measures and actions that will gather all involved parties in different types of fora and events to discuss the Smart Specialisation in the agri-food area and share experiences and ideas. Such policy measures and actions should exploit the research and innovation potential and build on the collaboration possibilities between the regional stakeholders. This study took into account various findings concerning the economic, research and innovation performance of the entire Western Balkan region in the agri-food domain and discussed many of them with the key stakeholders from the region within a targeted survey.

The findings of the study point to several actions that should support the transformational perspective of the agri-food domain in the Western Balkan region, aiming at upgrading the regional agri-food value chain for higher value and better integration options. These actions are grouped into the measures focused on inreasing the capacities for innovation and technological development, strengthening R&I resources, increasing productivity by modernisation and digitalisation, and enhancing the integration of local agri-food value chains into global value chains.

The Western Balkan’s potential in the agri-food area is vast and has a fertile ground for sustainable growth and strong development perspective. Its research and innovation strengths have been revealed within the Smart Specialisation exercise and discussed among the key stakeholders. The national authorities would need to further build on the proposed actions for the development of this sector and collaboration with other economies in the region in order to utilise its enormous possibilities in the global arena.

IDConsortium - Perspectives on growth of the agri-food sector in the Western Balkans
Patent network in the agri-food sector in the Western Balkans

Note: size of nodes is represented by the number of patent families, while the edges represent the number of joint occurrences. Source: Economica, patent database 2000-2020 (accessed March 2021), in: Matusiak et al., 2022.