Supported by the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project, Mega Natura, fruit processor from Breza, near Sarajevo, will soon increase the output of organic jams, juices, and other fruit products.
“We let people come into our orchard and pick the fruit they like,” says Šefket Hrustanović, owner of the Baš Bašća orchard, and Mega Natura, the fruit processing company from Breza, near Sarajevo. Between 2005 and 2010, Šefket worked to set up the organic orchard on ten hectares of land, and in 2018 he established the company. They now produce close to 200 tons of plums, pears, and apples a year, and smaller quantities of cherries, sour cherries, blackberries, and raspberries. They sell half of it at the orchard and process the rest.
"A gentlemen who once came to our orchard asked me if I was taking advantage of him by having him pick the fruit he was going to buy, and I said that I was," continues Šefket. "But then I also told him that he will probably pick the fruit he likes the best, and that is something no one else would let him do. People rarely let other people roam in their orchards, but that is the way we want to have it done. That is our way," he says.
Organic products and agro-tourism
In the beginning, the fruit that grew in Baš Bašća (the real garden) was sold fresh. As their yields grew with continual development and improved farming, they started having surplus fruit. So in 2012, Šefket and his family started to process fruit and make natural juices, jams, and other products such as peeled and dried plums and fruit cake fillings.
“We processed whatever fruit we could at home using the limited equipment we had, and we turned to our friends and partners to help us process the rest. Of course, they had to follow our instructions," says Šefket. Their efforts with the fruit processing paid off. In 2014, at the food fair in Nurnberg, Germany, they were awarded the best producer of plum juice in the entire Balkans.
The Baš Bašća also became an agro-tourism site. With a small animal farm, children playground, small lake with a raft, barbeque sites, and an option to drive a tractor through the orchard, it gets many visitors, including the 5,000 foreign visitors a year.
To gain the export license, in addition to Baš Bašća, Šefket registered Mega Natura. They now produce 15 organic fruit products under the brand Zlatija, name of Šefket's daughter in law.
Expanding the production
Shortly after being established, Mega Natura initiated exports to Germany, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. They also started selling their products in 15 organic shops in Sarajevo, and 15 Bingo supermarkets throughout BiH. As the demand for their products grew, they could no longer rely on their friends and partner to support them in the production. They thus opted to buy all the equipment they need, and also to diversify production.
Looking for the support with this significant undertaking, Mega Natura applied for a grant with the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project. With the project's support, they purchased a dry kiln, machine for washing, pitting, blanch, and rehydration machine.
"With the new equipment, we will be able to triple the production of processed fruit. Right now Mega Natura has two permanent employees, an agronomist and a technologist, both female. Once we put the production in motion we will need at least two more, as well as some 85 seasonal workers to help with picking and fruit preparation," notes Šefket. Furthermore, they will also start producing pear and apple chips and mixes of dry fruit.
Šefket does not plan to extend the orchard, nor to stop selling fresh fruit. Instead, he plans to start buying organic fruit from other farmers in the area. With the increased production, Zlatija products should soon gain larger market shares both nationally and internationally. Meanwhile, the organic orchard, and natural jams and juices, remain Breza's key attributes.