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Greek with a bottle of Shumensko beer in hand develops organic farming in Kotel

19 January 2011 / 12:01:34  GRReporter
8671 reads

Victoria Mindova

The main character in this story is Anastasios Brakatsoulas. He is a young lawyer graduated in London. He believes in the opportunities to develop successful business in Bulgaria and intends to act exactly in this direction. A bottle of Shumensko beer amidst a modern night bar in downtown Athens puzzled me so much one night that I had to find out how it got there. I asked whether the owner sold this beer in the bar and he said "No!". Then he showed me a smiling young man who was carelessly speaking with his friends while sipping from the bottle with the label familiar to me. "Hello, how did you find this beer?" I asked him without too much embarrassment and he replied: "I brought it myself!"

So, I met Thanasis (shorter of Anastasios) who agreed to tell me about his experiences to develop business in Bulgaria as well as about the similarities and differences between the two countries.

How did you decide to start business in Bulgaria?

All the people ask me especially when they realize that I turned to farming or in short with sheep-breeding. This wasn’t my decision. My father and his two friends initiated this at first. We decided to do it because we really appreciated that Bulgaria is a country that provides great opportunities for business development and has serious economic growth. Agriculture is especially attractive because there are all the necessary preconditions and the area around the town of Kotel offers many advantages in this field.

How was the first contact established?

One of the company’s associates acquainted with our Bulgarian connection – a Bulgarian of Karakachan origin. He speaks Greek and was the first to present the advantages of the region. From the Greek side, my father with his two partners went to see the land. He liked it and this was how it all began in 2003. The aim was to develop a vertical production unit which connects the production from the input to the output - land, animals, meat exports and dairy for organic cheese at a later stage. Important role in the investment decision played the price too - the land in Bulgaria especially in the area around Kotel is really cheap.

When did you get involved in the project?

I was still in England and studied when it all started. I accompanied my father twice in the period 2003-2005 but I became part of the business in 2006 actually. I began to learn things for Bulgaria, farming and for the particular business to be able to help. Unfortunately, our original undertaking did not go well but I found new opportunities through it. I want to emphasize that Bulgaria and agriculture in the country have huge potential for development in spite of all.

You said the undertaking did not go well. Why?

This is the most frequently asked question I hear when I talk with other Greeks about our business in Bulgaria. The failure was the result of a mistake we made not because some external reason. And that's the big difference between the two countries - the problems here come mostly from the surrounding factors which stumble you when you're determined to achieve something rather than help you.

Do you mean the state?

I mean the state, but not only. There is always the possibility of a neighbour to complain or not to get permission if you do not give a bribe to a public servant besides the endless paperwork. To open a bar in downtown Athens, for example, you must get permission from the Archeological Department. In fact, it has nothing to check because the premise is located in a building built during 1950s. You will have hard times if you have to go to institutions such as the municipal urban planning, tax offices, fire safety, etc.

We haven’t got problems on institutional levels in Bulgaria. On the contrary, everything was according to the rules. Even a little more straightforward than necessary but with no departure.

What do you mean?

We invested 100% own capital to develop the business. We applied for one of the SAPARD European programs for agricultural development to develop it to the next level. It turned out that one of our documents was not correct when they came to check. We tried to convince the supervisory committee that we could correct the error but they did not step back and did not allow us to delay. Anyway, there was no real production in this region five years ago. Our project offered development of new activity in the region and would open up new jobs. We were the only company that was interested in doing anything in this region.

The committee did not consider any of the above and wrote a report to the central office in Sofia. The control committee from Sofia arrived accompanied by a police officer and it was also a little strange.

What happened to the stock-breeding farm and dairy project finally?

SAPARD refusal resulted in a serious debt to the bank for us. Our calculations showed us that the project would not bring us the expected return on that stage. So, we froze the business which does not mean that I abandoned it. The other two partners split this year and I undertook to found the new company by myself. Its main activity is agriculture rather than stock-breeding.

Tags: EconomyMarketsKotelGreek investmentsBulgariaBulgarian productionGoods
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