BiH producers of medicinal and aromatic plants, supported by the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project, provide a stable supply of raw materials to the domestic pharmaceutical industry.

“We have just received the approval by the Republika Srpske Ministry of Agriculture to start growing and processing organic industrial hemp,” says Nedeljko Kusturić, owner of the Prirodno Bilje from Banja Luka, in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"This is very good news as we have already managed to find a buyer for our product from Frankfurt, Germany. Industrial hemp is a new plant for us and in BiH in general, and I am very excited that this is happening," Nedeljko said.

Expanding production

Prirodno Bilje has grown steadily since it was established in 1996. It currently produces over 150 tons of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), mainly chamomile, mint, basil, marigold, and lemon balm, on 80 hectares of land.

"We have just over 34 hectares of our land, and we cooperate with 120 farmers who cultivate 46 hectares and collect wild herbs," said Nedeljko. Priorodno Bilje also provides seeds and seeding materials, burlap bags, and expert support to all their farmers and collectors. “We also buy all of their produce, and we are happy to report that there are 72 women amongst these farmers.”

To help Prirodno Bilje grow, in 2010 the USAID and the Swedish government’s FARMA project helped the company buy a tractor, kiln, and herb-cutting machine. In 2019, the FARMA II project helped Prirodno Bilje buy a machine that separates leaves from stems.

"The main reason for us to increase our MAP processing capacities is to be able to expand production and contract additional farmers. The latest investment by the FARMA II project enabled us to increase the number of farmers we work with from 100 to 120. And this time we targeted farmers from municipalities with underdeveloped rural areas, such as Bihać, Tešanj, Teslić, Drinić, and Bosanski Petrovac,” says Nedeljko.

Prirodno Bilje supports its partner suppliers all year long to keep them in business and stabilize profit opportunities. “We try very hard to diversify production by our farmers so that they have enough things to do throughout the year and make money. They can start with the production of marigold in March and finish with the production of lemon balm and mint in November.”

Stable provision of raw materials to the domestic pharmaceutical industry

“We truly value and believe in domestic production. We are doing our best to develop it further, year after year," emphasizes Nedeljko. “This whole situation with the COVID-19 pandemic showed just how important it is to have a stable base and domestic supply of raw materials, as oppose to relying on imports to keep the production of final product uninterrupted,” elaborates Nedeljko.

"Out of 150 tons of dried MAPs, we sell 80 percent to the pharmaceutical companies in BiH. Another ten percent we sell to pharmaceutical companies abroad, and the remaining ten percent we use to produce herbal tea as a finished product, which we mainly export to Italy and sell in BiH.”

Future of the industrial hemp

With an additional six permanent employees, three women and three men all under 35, and many seasonal workers, Nedeljko hopes to continue working with an increasing the number of farmers. He plans for the first project of plantation growing of the industrial hemp to be an introduction for organized production and for the exports of the hemp to significantly increase in the future.

“Around the world, more than 200 products are made of industrial hemp. Hemp seeds are used in the food industry and hemp is increasingly the material of choice for insulation in the construction industry. Further, the stems are used to produce briquettes for eco-heating plants as they contain more energy than beech wood,” Nedeljko explains.

“We expect the agricultural institutes and ministries of agriculture to get involved in the process of industrial hemp production and provide appropriate expert support and a regulatory framework aligned with the EU acquis,” adds Nedeljko, while adding, "On we must go!"