The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project supported the Agricultural Cooperative Insieme from Bratunac to expand cooling facilities and increase the production of highly profitable organic jams and juices by 15 percent.
The Agricultural Cooperative Insieme from Bratunac in the Podrinje region of Eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina was established 17 years ago. Its mission was to produce, process, and export different types of berries and forest fruit. While the mission remained the same, the major difference between now and then is that in 2003 the cooperative had ten, and today it has 500 members.
“Our farmers come mainly from Bratunac and Srebrenica, but also Zvornik and Milići,” says Skender Hot, the Director of the cooperative.
"From the offset, we were working to increase the number of people in the Podrinje region who would be active in the production of berries and collection of forest fruit. Being a cooperative we provided training and seedlings to the farmers and would buy, freeze, and export all their produce," he explains. As the production of berries expanded to 50 hectares, the cooperative no longer needed to produce seedlings. Instead, in 2009 they started diversifying production and producing natural jams and juices.
Finding the niche
The cooperative now produces more than 650 tons of raspberries and blackberries, and annually collects almost 300 tons of forest blueberries, cranberries, elder, and cornelian cherries.
While the first-class raspberries and blackberries are frozen using the IQF technology and exported to Austria, Germany, and Holland, the lower quality berries and forest fruits are processed into six types of jams and five types of juices, most of which are certified as organic products. More than 90 percent of jams and juices are exported to Italy.
“Production of jams and juices was a step in the right direction for us,” says Skender. "These added-value products both extended our production to the entire year, and they increased our profitability. We now make the same from selling the frozen products and jams and juices, though we sell double the amount of the frozen ones."
Expanding the production
Insieme products are of high quality. In 2020 they maintained their sales and were looking to expand the cold storage facilities that would enable them to increase their production by being able to store more fruit to be processed and the final products before shipping.
“We applied for a grant with the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project. Luckily for us, it was approved, and we were able to do several things with the funds we received," explains Skender. “We expanded our cooling facilities from 950 to almost 1,000 tons capacity, we installed improved cooling and heating systems in our production facilities, and we also installed new water treatment equipment which will lower our environmental impact and allow us to reuse most of the water coming out of the production.”
These improvements will enable the cooperative to increase production, sales, and exports by 15 percent, i.e. to almost one million of jars and bottles a year, and also to engage more full time and seasonal workers to work on the production of jams and juices all year long.
While Insieme is an export-oriented company they have not given up on the domestic market. "We export because it is easier for us to work with the markets with high demand, where high-quality products are appreciated. But we are not giving up on the BiH market either. We will keep trying to sell our products here as well and we hope that the retail chains and potential distributors will soon adjust their profit margin policies that would make our products competitive also in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” concludes Skender.