Financial Support for Sustainable Solutions for Serbian SMEs

To tackle challenges such as rising production costs, climate change, and market turbulence, Serbian fruit and vegetable producers must invest in innovative solutions. One example is solar panels, which enable a stable energy supply necessary for maintaining the quality of fruits, particularly in cold storage facilities, while simultaneously contributing to reducing harmful gas emissions and the long-term cost-effectiveness of operations. On the other hand, companies that would invest in such solutions are often not sufficiently informed about the available sources of financing, and they often lack an adequate financial background for applying, especially in rural and less developed parts of Serbia. To assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in quickly adapting to climate change and encouraging investment in innovative solutions, the Big Small Businesses Project provides essential technical support through local consultants. They educate SMEs about all available sources of financing in Serbia, advise on investment, manage financial applications, and increase their chances of successfully obtaining investment financing from banks, state funds, and other institutions.

Excellent examples are the companies LAKI and B.S.A. Fruit, which have taken proactive steps to address cost challenges and ensure sustained competitiveness. They are involved in procuring, processing, freezing, packaging, and distributing fresh and frozen fruits, exporting primarily to EU countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Israel, and New Zealand. Annually, they process over 3,000 tons of various fruits, with raspberries comprising the majority at over 70%. Employing over 80 workers and sourcing fruits from over 400 agricultural households in municipalities in southwestern Serbia, these companies are deeply integrated into the local agricultural ecosystem.

After analyzing the costs conducted by both companies with the assistance of consultants, it was identified that high energy costs during prolonged inventory retention in cold storages represent a significant expense. Both companies invested in solar power infrastructure to address this, aiming to reduce reliance on expensive electricity. LAKI chose to install panels with a total capacity of 260 kW, while B.S.A. The investment made by LAKI was secured with the Development Finance Corporation (DFC). Fruit embarked on a solar power project with a capacity of 160 kW. These investments are expected to yield annual energy cost savings of approximately EUR 100,000. This investment underscores their commitment to cost efficiency and environmentally sustainable practices and adapts them to changing market conditions.

From March 2023 to February 2024, the Project provided technical support through seven local consultants to 46 SMEs, of which 10 are women-owned. Consultants conducted awareness-raising sessions on all available sources of financing and provided personalized financial planning with users, enabling them to obtain approvals for external financing of investment projects totaling $26.9 million, of which $12 million is related to the green economy. Eight loans, valued at $3.1 million, were secured with the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) guarantee in ProCredit, Addiko, and Intesa banks.