“What a shame you cannot be here in two weeks,” our driver said, as we entered Toplica District in Southern Serbia, the poorest part of the country. It is an open countryside of rolling hills, with thick forests on the horizon. Next to the road, neat rows of bushes and low trees appear, dotted with red.
“In two weeks, everything will be red,” he said. “And what do you do with all these cherries?” I asked, half dreaming of one of my mother’s best tarts.
Export to Russia, came the reply. A river of sour cherries flowing from this small corner of Serbia, across Europe and into Russia is a less interesting image than my mother’s spectacular tart, but in a country where signs of the ongoing economic crisis abound, this is good news.
Every field we looked at had new plantings alongside more established trees. A new parasite is apparently threatening these cherry orchards, and foreign experts are working with local growers to control it. Still, it seems clear that people are investing in the business, and this means jobs – though only temporary, tough and lasting long hours of cherry picking, these jobs are a blessing for those who have little else to rely on.
Ivan and his wife Daniela, in the village of Vlahovo, are a case in point - and the face of poverty in the region.