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AGRICULTURAL TRADE FINDS REASONS TO CELEBRATE, DESPITE DIFFICULT YEAR FOR FARMERS

Agrokomplex enters its third decade

THE ANNUAL Agrokomplex exhibition was first held in 1974, just six years after the traumatic events of the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968. During its thirty-year history it has seen the transition from communism to capitalism, from Czechoslovakia to Slovakia, and will see a further upheaval next year as farmers prepare for entry to the European Union.
In his opening speech at this year's exhibition, Agriculture Minister Zsolt Simon said that 2003 had been "a complicated year for Slovak farmers, due to unfavourable economic and climatic events."


THE EVENT attracted 140,000 visitors.
photo: Conrad Toft

THE ANNUAL Agrokomplex exhibition was first held in 1974, just six years after the traumatic events of the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968. During its thirty-year history it has seen the transition from communism to capitalism, from Czechoslovakia to Slovakia, and will see a further upheaval next year as farmers prepare for entry to the European Union.

In his opening speech at this year's exhibition, Agriculture Minister Zsolt Simon said that 2003 had been "a complicated year for Slovak farmers, due to unfavourable economic and climatic events."

The trade fair also gave Simon the opportunity to meet with agriculture ministers from the EU and neighbouring countries and discuss the state of preparedness for accession to the European Union. Their discussions touched on the subject of subsidies for farmers in the joining countries - an issue that has been highlighted by this year's drought problems.

Two events were held in parallel with the main trade fair, - COOPEXPO, an international co-operative exhibition of consumer goods and foodstuffs, and Craft Market 2003, which featured goods from small- and medium-sized enterprises.

In an effort to encourage small- and medium-sized Slovak food and drink producers, Agrokomplex's expert jury also awards a "Golden Sickle" every year for the best food product, agricultural machine, cattle producer and industrial design.

This year, the annual agricultural and food trade fair had booths from over 530 exhibitors, ten times more than the inaugural fair in 1974. The firms were from 18 countries, although most exhibitors were from Slovakia and the neighbouring Czech Republic.

Numbers have fallen off since the mid-1990s, when the exhibition could expect to attract over 700 exhibitors, as the rush into the new marketplaces of central Europe following the collapse of communism has subsided.

Agrokomplex's organisers estimate that up to five percent of the visitors to the trade fair are from foreign countries.

Ivan Tomka, head of the trade fair, noted the difference between the event now and in the past under communism.

"Before [1989] there was almost no business done at Agrokomplex," he said.

"Right now, Agrokomplex is a commercial event that is seen by exhibitors as an effective way to present new products and do a little market research for themselves. We can't, however, provide any statistics confirming that business is made here because we consider it unethical to ask exhibitors for [those kind of] numbers," Tomka added.

Each year the event attracts many ordinary people, as well as traders and farmers from across Europe. The organisers estimated that 140,000 visitors attended the six-day event. Many of these visitors feel a certain nostalgia connected with the event.

Many of the locals, who make up more than a quarter of the total visitors, are not interested in business contacts but simply on a good day out.

"I wanted to come again this year because Agrokomplex reminds me of my youth. We used to come here when I was a child and see all the different foods that we couldn't get during the communist regime," one Nitra resident in her twenties told The Slovak Spectator.

Many of the booths are aimed at these more casual visitors. In addition to the agricultural and food exhibitions, there were also displays of Slovak fashion, sports equipment, and household utensils.

There are also opportunities to sample Slovak products and exhibitions by Slovak museums and the various regions of the country, hoping to promote tourism.

There were a variety of events to attract visitors this year, including horse-riding exhibitions and demonstrations of traditional farming activities. There was even a record broken - three barmen opened 300 bottles of beer in 1 minute, 17.73 seconds.

The record-breaking tradition is not new - in 2000 a world record was set when 100 people drank 100 half-litres of beer consecutively in seven minutes and 47 seconds.

The large exhibition grounds, covering almost 150 hectares on the edge of the Nitra's Chrenová district, was used almost exclusively for the agricultural fair until the fall of communism in 1989.

Now, there are over 30 exhibitions held there each year, including an international car exhibition, Autosalón. The Agrokomplex exhibition grounds made a net profit of Sk 25.7 million (€900,000) in 2002.

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