Bulgaria Bulgaria Bulgaria Bulgaria

Agriculture and Horticulture Bulgaria

Agriculture and horticulture in numbers


Agriculture accounts for only a small part of gross domestic production (GDP) in Europe, and it is considered that the overall vulnerability of the European economy to changes that affect agriculture is low (8). However, agriculture is much more important in terms of area occupied (farmland and forest land cover approximately 90 % of the EU's land surface), and rural population and income (9).


Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of the Bulgarian economy. Much of the Bulgarian population is occupied in it. The sector forms a relatively small share of the GDP. Bulgaria has excellent natural conditions for the development of agriculture. Cultivated agricultural land covers 48% of the total territory of the country (1).

The importance and history of irrigation

Irrigation activities in Bulgaria have a long tradition dating back in the 15th century when first rice production along the Maritza River and, later, vegetable and fruit growing were supported by means of irrigation. Irrigation is very important for Bulgarian agriculture, but until the end of the Second World War only a small part of the land was irrigated (3).

During the1960s, the state initiated an extensive program to increase irrigated areas. Since cooperatives were then the dominant organizational form, irrigation systems were designed to supply water to large production units. The main sources of water supply were large dams located in the mountains, and rivers. Groundwater was used as a complementary source. In 1990, the total irrigated land was about 1,200,000 hectares (25% of the arable land in Bulgaria) (3).

At the end of land reform in the year 2000, Bulgarian farm structure was dominated by three groups: small subsistent farms operated by people close to retirement, cooperatives, most of them in bad financial situation, and large commercial farms. The number of middle-size family farms remained small (3).

During transition, the amount of water used for irrigation in Bulgaria has sharply declined. In addition, the share of actually irrigated areas to those that can be irrigated is low. Large sections of existing irrigation systems lie abandoned, and the ones still in use are barely maintained.Crops such as wheat and barley have replaced more water-intensive crops, including vegetables, rice and maize. Irrigation, until recently a major water user in Bulgaria, has been drastically affected. Uneven distribution of Bulgaria’s natural water resources over time and space makes irrigation necessary to reduce production risk and insures that the common-pool resource retains continuous high economic importance. Yet, the irrigation systems were built to serve large production units during socialism and do not meet the needs of the huge number of small-scale landowners that emerged following the land restitution process. Moreover, facilities have largely deteriorated, property rights on the infrastructure are ambiguous and water loss in the system amount to 70% owing to un-maintained facilities and water stealing (3).

Agriculture is still in a crisis at present. Most of the farms are small and do not have at their disposal significant financial means. Various European funds are not enough efficiently used (3).

Vulnerabilities Bulgaria

Especially in the new Member States life styles are rapidly changing due to the economic restructuring process, which is expected to lead to an increase of water consumption (5). Growing demand for irrigation: At present already 40 % of all food is produced by irrigated agriculture (6). Due to growing population and climate change, the agricultural production will intensify its management including irrigation (7).

During the climate change in Bulgaria in the 21st century, most vulnerable will be: a) spring agricultural crops, due to the expected precipitation deficit during the warm half-year; b) crops cultivated on infertile soils; c) crops on non-irrigated areas; d) arable lands in south-east Bulgaria where even during the present climate, precipitation quantities are insufficient for normal growth, vegetation and productivity of agricultural crops (1).

Pests and diseases

Generally, in the future climate an increased pest population is expected. Some crop diseases and pests will decrease because of warming and the rainfall deficit during the warm half of the year; however, different kinds of diseases and pests, which currently flourish in the southern regions of the European continent, will appear (2).

Vulnerabilities Europe - Climate change not main driver

Socio-economic factors and technological developments

Climate change is only one driver among many that will shape agriculture and rural areas in future decades. Socio-economic factors and technological developments will need to be considered alongside agro-climatic changes to determine future trends in the sector (9).

From research it was concluded that socio-economic assumptions have a much greater effect on the scenario results of future changes in agricultural production and land use then the climate scenarios (10).

The European population is expected to decline by about 8% over the period from 2000 to 2030 (11).

Scenarios on future changes in agriculture largely depend on assumptions about technological development for future agricultural land use in Europe (10). It has been estimated that changes in the productivity of food crops in Europe over the period 1961–1990 were strongest related to technology development and that effects of climate change were relatively small. For the period till 2080 an increase in crop productivity for Europe has been estimated between 25% and 163%, of which between 20% and 143% is due to technological development and 5-20% is due to climate change and CO2 fertilisation. The contribution of climate change just by itself is approximately a minor 1% (12).

Care should be taken, however, in drawing firm conclusions from the apparent lack of sensitivity of agricultural land use to climate change. At the regional scale there are winners and losers (in terms of yield changes), but these tend to cancel each other out when aggregated to the whole of Europe (10).

Future changes in land use

If technology continues to progress at current rates then the area of agricultural land would need to decline substantially. Such declines will not occur if there is a correspondingly large increase in the demand for agricultural goods, or if political decisions are taken either to reduce crop productivity through policies that encourage extensification or to accept widespread overproduction (10).

Cropland and grassland areas (for the production of food and fibre) may decline by as much as 50% of current areas for some scenarios. Such declines in production areas would result in large parts of Europe becoming surplus to the requirement of food and fibre production (10). Over the shorter term (up to 2030) changes in agricultural land area may be small (13).

Although it is difficult to anticipate how this land would be used in the future, it seems that continued urban expansion, recreational areas (such as for horse riding) and forest land use would all be likely to take up at least some of the surplus. Furthermore, whilst the substitution of food production by energy production was considered in these scenarios, surplus land would provide further opportunities for the cultivation of bioenergy crops (10).

Europe is a major producer of biodiesel, accounting for 90% of the total production worldwide (14). In the Biofuels Progress Report (15), it is estimated that in 2020, the total area of arable land required for biofuel production will be between 7.6 million and 18.3 million hectares, equivalent to approximately 8% and 19% respectively of total arable land in 2005.

The agricultural area of Europe has already diminished by about 13% in the 40 years since 1960 (10).

Benefits and opportunities

Initially, owing to warmer temperatures, the decrease in precipitation and the longer growing seasons, there may be an improvement in crop productivity (cereals, oilseeds and sugar beet) in countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania (16).

From a case study for the northeast region it was concluded that the impact of climate changes on crop yields, measured as variation of gross agricultural output, is positive. It varies between 11% and 23% for the different climate scenarios. Secondly, the impacts of this climate caused crop yield changes on the regional economy are expected to be positive with increases between 2% and 4% in the total output compared to the baseline scenario (1).

The increase of temperatures at an effective doubling of the CO2 concentration leads to the increase of the agroclimatic thermal potential in Bulgaria - longer growing period and bigger amount of effective temperatures during the same time interval. The precipitation amounts increase or slightly decrease during the potential growing period and decrease in the non-growing period due to the shifting of the dates of sustainable air temperature transition in autumn and spring to the beginning and the end of the winter season. The climate change scenarios derived for Bulgaria were used to evaluate changes in potential and actual crop growing season and grain yield of maize and winter wheat. Under equilibrium 2xCO2, the potential crop growing season was projected to increase by 1-2 months. Hence, a northward shift of productive potential was evident. The sum of the plant effective temperatures will also increase (4).

Adaptation strategies - Irrigation

The use of more efficient irrigation systems can be expected because of the need for tighter water management practices to counter increased demand. For orchards and vines, drip-irrigation systems can be used to conserve water. Water losses through seepage and evaporation in canal and flood irrigation systems can be minimized by lining the canals with cement or switching to pipe irrigation systems. The significantly higher costs of production related to irrigation systems will most likely result in shifts to less water-demanding uses in areas where there are higher rates of moisture loss. Using more groundwater for crop irrigation is also a prospective method. First of all, however, the irrigation systems available until the 1990s should be restored in the country (2).

The main adaptation measures cover organizational and managerial, financial and economic, and legislative aspects of irrigation and irrigated agriculture and should aim at (1):

  • improvement of management, use and protection of water resources in irrigated agriculture;
  • improving the efficiency of the management and use of the existing irrigation facilities and elaboration of the technological and technical facilities for irrigation;
  • use of rational and economically sound irrigation regimes for the irrigated crops and elaboration of the technologies for cultivation of crops in the conditions of droughts and water deficit.

With respect to irrigation it has been concluded (1) that

  • Irrigation will be the main factor for the sustainable development of Bulgarian agriculture, giving guarantee for stable and quality plant production in years, varying in terms of the climate and accepting the challenges due to the expected periods of drought and water deficit in the years to come;
  • Fast restoration and development of the irrigation sector and irrigation agriculture must become a main priority of the state policy in the agricultural sector supported by real, active and sound investment program, based on the use of national and international financial resources;
  • The economic efficiency assessment of the existing irrigation facilities must be completed and a decision must be taken for the restoration and reconstruction of economically effective, suitable and unsuitable facilities at the present moment;
  • A proper irrigation investment program for the next few years must be developed and applied, with state subsidies aimed at the most efficient regions and such with active or to be established soon irrigation associations;
  • The existing irrigation systems must be reconstructed and reorganized, aimed at their use in the condition of water deficit, implementing proper models in representative regions in the country;
  • The present irrigation technologies and equipment must be elaborated, aimed at compliance with the new needs of the irrigated cultivars and increasing their efficiency, development and use of new water saving and energy saving technologies and equipment;
  • The energy demand of the irrigation systems must be assessed and measures must be developed to increase their energy efficiency;
  • Technologies and systems for regulation and control of technological processes for distribution and use of water for irrigation must be developed and applied.

Adaptation strategies – Other measures

Several other measures can be taken to reduce the vulnerability of Bulgarian agriculture to climate change, such as changes in types of crops and soil optimization.

New zoning of the agroclimatic resources and agricultural crops (1)

  • Expanding areas of the most important agricultural crops over new regions characterized by improved thermal and moisture conditions.
  • Utilization of a variety of cultivars and hybrids, especially long-maturing, high-productive cultivars and hybrids with better industrial qualities.
  • Cultivation of new agricultural crops grown with Mediterranean origin.

New cultivars and hybrids to be adapted to climate change (1,2)

  • The new cultivars of winter agricultural crops to pass through the winter season organogenesis under higher temperatures without deviations from the normal crop growth and development.
  • The new cultivars and hybrids to be with higher dry-resistance, especially at the end of the vegetative period and at the beginning of the reproductive period.
  • Higher maximal air temperatures not to provoke thermal stress effects, especially during crop flowering and formation of the reproductive organs.
  • The new cultivars and hybrids to grow and photosynthesis under an increased concentration of carbon dioxide.

Crop diversification allows farmers to cope with climate variation from year to year. The climate in southern Bulgaria is influenced by the Mediterranean. Warming may cause a natural northward shift of some agricultural crops and trees grown in the upper areas of neighboring countries such as Greece, Turkey, and so forth (2).

Optimization of soil treatment (1)

  • Optimal dates and terms of sowing of main crops.
  • Soil monitoring.
  • Measures for improvement of the water content in soils.
  • Measures to improve the soil structure and performance.
  • Actions against erosion and for better nutrition mode.
  • Up-to-date technologies in soil treatment that keep soil water and structure.
  • Effective use of mineral fertilizers relevant to the soils diversity.
  • Overcoming of the misbalance of the main nutrients and normalization of the mineral/organic fertilizers ratio.

Many practices, such as conservation tilling, furrow diking, terracing, contouring, and planting vegetation to act as windbreaks, will protect fields from water and wind erosion and can help retain moisture by reducing evaporation and increasing water infiltration (2).

Adaptation phytosanitary measures (1)

  • Development of special sub-models incorporated into models of agroecosystems which simulate plant-protection situations, related to climate change.
  • Assessment of already used pesticides and the way of their utilization and potential effectiveness of the chemical method against crop diseases and pests.
  • Improving technologies for plant protection and priority development of nonchemical methods against crop diseases and pests.
  • Improving the monitoring for the phytosanitary situation in the country.

Pricing policy

The sustainable growth of agricultural production in Bulgaria should be given one of the highest priorities among all national development programs. Pricing policy can also be used to steer agriculture in a direction more adaptive to climate change. Using pricing policy, the government could make the national agriculture relatively adaptable to climate change (2).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Bulgaria.

  1. Ministry of Environment and Water (2010)
  2. Alexandrov (1999)
  3. Alexandrov (2008)
  4. Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Waters and Energoproekt PLC
  5. Lehner et al. (2001), in: EEA (2005)
  6. Chmielewski (2005), in: EEA (2005)
  7. EEA (2003)
  8. EEA (2006), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  9. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  10. Rounsevell et al. (2005)
  11. UN (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  12. Ewert et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  13. Van Meijl et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  14. JNCC (2007), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  15. European Commission (2006), in: Anderson (ed.) (2007)
  16. Behrens et al. (2010)