Agriculture, organic fruit and vegetable cultivation, and cattle breeding are perhaps the greatest untapped potentials in BiH, especially because the country’s agricultural land, as well as water and other natural resources, continues to be of high quality.
Vast mountain pastures and large areas of arable land remain relatively deserted, despite the fact that more than 20 years have passed since the end of the war in BiH. Globalized markets represent a challenge for small economies such as that of BiH, creating competitive pressure that can have a wide range of implications for agricultural production and the rural economy. Not all producers and processors in agriculture will benefit from improved market access for their products. Less efficient agricultural processors and producers, as well as farmers with poor access to markets, with low quality of land and insufficient production volume, will struggle to compete with imported products. It is forecast that the production and sale of certain agricultural products will increase, while the production of other commodities will decline. This will affect the long-term sustainability of many rural communities. Accordingly, rural development will become an increasingly important element of agricultural policy, not least through measures to assist people in rural areas to secure alternative sources of income and employment that are not related to agriculture.
To take advantage of the natural resources that BiH has to offer, and make agriculture one of the leading economic sectors, it is not enough to just plant seeds in the soil, or to buy and feed livestock. Nor is it enough to simply produce food. No, these are just some of the steps. What is also necessary is to secure a market for agricultural produce, ensure its quality, and manage business in accordance with the principles and standards of good business practice. Only when all of these conditions are met can agriculture become a sustainable, prosperous industry for the people engaged in it.
With precisely that goal in mind, the EU has provided financial and expert assistance to building and upgrading the work of local institutions in the field of agriculture, food safety, and the veterinary and phytosanitary sectors, such as the Veterinary Office of BiH, Administration of BiH for Plant Health Protection, Food Safety Agency of BiH, etc. As a result of this assistance, producers of fish, honey, potatoes, heat-treated milk and dairy products have been provided the opportunity to participate in the EU Member States' market, because the relevant control and management systems in these sectors in BiH have confirmed the guarantees of safety and quality of products intended for the EU market and their compliance with the relevant sanitary and phytosanitary regulations of the European Union. This is of particular importance as the EU is BiH’s leading trading partner, with its member states such as Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany, representing key markets for the agricultural and food products of BiH.
Furthermore, the EU significantly contributed to the development of the Strategic Plan for Rural Development of BiH 2018–2021 – Framework document, which is of fundamental importance to the development of agriculture and rural development, food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policies in BiH in the coming period as well as for the achievement of the goals we have already mentioned.
CERD – Unique Economic and Rural Development Initiative
“Life in the village is more relaxed and beautiful than in the city. My family now enjoys fresh air and peace, instead of the noise of cars and crowds in the streets”.
Jelena Bundalo is one of the beneficiaries of the Centre for Economic and Rural Development (CERD), through which she has learned how to utilise her skills to develop a sustainable business in agriculture.
“With CERD as my partner, I lead a successful and productive rural life. CERD helped me gain new knowledge in beekeeping and provided me with the necessary equipment,” Jelena says. “I now realise that I can actively participate as a woman in the creation and development of agricultural enterprise.”
Jelena, a former merchant born in Banja Luka, is a successful farmer and beekeeper. With her husband Željko, she left Banja Luka three years ago and moved to Željko's birthplace, Drugovići, a village around 30 km from Banja Luka. Since then, they have worked hard to develop several agricultural projects, and their estate is becoming more profitable every year.
FOTO: Jelena Bundalo, one of the beneficiaries of the Centre for Economic and Rural Development
FOTO: Jelena preparing hives for bees
In greenhouses donated by CERD, Jelena is also putting new knowledge provided by CERD to good use. “We create products for the Domestica brand,” she explains. “CERD enabled me to meet people who actively develop rural life and enterprise, providing me with all the information I need. Ultimately, CERD provides us all with security because it continuously improves the quality of village life.”
FOTO: CERD created the brand Domestica to promote domestic production
CERD is a great example of local partnership between entrepreneurs, government and service providers, to promote local enterprise. Opening its premises in October 2016 in Krnete, Laktaši municipality, it supports economic development in four partner municipalities - Laktaši, Gradiška, Kozarska Dubica and Srbac - by providing services to small and medium enterprises in rural areas.
The reconstruction of the old school in Krnete (built in 1932 and previously unused for the past 40 years) and opening of the CERD centre within this premises was financed by the EU through the Regional Growth through Economic and Rural Development – “ReGERD Project”, implemented by the Agency for Cooperation, Education and Development (ACED) together with the municipalities of Gradiška, Kozarska Dubica, Laktaši, and Srbac, the LAG SAVUS Association, the Local Development Agency of Kozarska Dubica, and the University Entrepreneurship Centre of Banja Luka.
This project is part of €5.2 million in grant support currently being implemented by the European Union through local partnerships across Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Apart from the reconstruction of the building and establishment of CERD, a number of other relevant activities have been carried out, such as the establishment of municipal business councils, business and marketing planning, product development and branding, creation of export strategies, and introduction of production standards for small and medium enterprises.
FOTO: Miodrag Matavulj, CERD Director
While many companies prefer to move from villages to towns and cities, CERD moved from the city to the village, and now has 14 employees based in Krnete. CERD Director, Miodrag Matavulj, considers this an innovative approach. "CERD is a unique economic and rural development initiative, as we are trying to see rural development from the inside,” Miodrag says. “That is the reason we decided to leave the city and integrate into this rural environment.”
Sandra Josović, Editor in Chief of the magazine "Agroplaneta", whose editorial office is part of CERD, says she is very fond of the village and nature, and that there are numerous benefits of working in Krnete.
"Although many people ask us how we can travel from the city to the village every day, I have to say that even in larger cities people travel to work for more than half an hour,” Sandra observes. “Krnete is not that far away from Banja Luka and it offers many benefits - it brings us peace, we live and work in harmony with nature, and the working atmosphere is warm and comfortable. I would recommend to anyone to connect with village life in some way.”
FOTO: Miodrag in the new offices refurbished with the help of EU funds
Miodrag is particularly pleased that the school that CERD has renovated with EU help is once again a place of learning, this time providing education in economic and rural development.
FOTO: The reconstruction of the old school in Krnete and opening of the Centre was financed by the European Union through the “ReGERD Project”
“We have held a series of trainings in this facility,” he explains. “And I would especially emphasise our support to women from rural areas in the development of organic production. A selected group of women from Laktaši municipality, supported by CERD, have obtained greenhouses and managed to grow healthy organic vegetables for the market, under our brand called Domestica. Also, we have launched the AgMENTOR Centre that provides business-counselling services to companies, farms and co-operatives in order to improve their competitiveness. We have a number of other activities and plans, and CERD will continue to support our farmers and work on strengthening local rural development.”.