The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project provided the initial support; MAMEX from Bijeljina to launch a new factory of processed vegetable products using its own-grown vegetables.
"We live for agriculture, and we live off agriculture. This is the only job we have," says Mladen Lazić, owner of the MAMEX from Bijeljina. MAMEX produces fresh vegetables now, but very soon it will become a producer of processed vegetables as well, pickles and ajvar mainly.
“This is a family business,” explains Mladen. “Five of us, supported by 35 seasonal workers, do whatever is needed. I drive the truck, fix the tractor. In short, I do whatever is needed to keep us going, and we all work the land and pick vegetables.”
The development path
MAMEX Ltd dates back to 2007. "At the beginning, we used to buy vegetables from the producers from Semberija [the agricultural region in the Northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina], and export it to Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Russia, and Bulgaria,” says Mladen. “But it quickly became evident that we also needed to grow our vegetables if we were to keep supplying our buyers throughout the year, and not just during the summer season. We needed to start the greenhouse production of peppers and cucumbers, as no one else was doing it.”
In 2010, they bought the land and built thirty greenhouses on three hectares of land. But that was only the beginning.
“I believe in domestic production. As young people are abandoning villages and moving to cities, or going to work abroad, there was ample land to buy. Furthermore, 2014 floods sacred a lot of people out of agriculture and the price of land dropped. For us, that was the opportunity. We took out loans and used some of the subsidies, and we bought another 30 hectares of land,” explains Mladen.
MAMEX now produces 1,800 tons of cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, spinach, beetroots, garlic, and potatoes, and buys additional 2,800 tons from seven bigger producers in Semberija.
“We export some 20 percent of our products to Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia, and sell the rest to the retail chains in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” notes Mladen.
Big leap forward
“In 2014 floods we lost our entire sessional production, but we did not give up. When some decide to close their business, others decide to go forward,” says Mladen adding that the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop him either.
Mladen adds that the floods though them that they needed to change their business model and make it more resilient. That is when they started planning to open a factory for the production of pickled vegetables and ajvar.
“Looking for help to buy the necessary equipment, in 2017, we applied for a grant with the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project. Looking at how much we invested in the construction of the factory thus far, the amount of money was asked for was relatively not that big, but the trust in our vision we received from the project propelled us and gave us the further push to move on with our plans.”
Come mid-July, MAMEX will open the factory and launch eight new products: Mother’s Recipe Ajvar; and pickled cucumbers, mixed salad, beetroots, white, and yellow pepper fillets; and baked papers and tomato juice. The Sweden/FARMA II project is now designing labels for Mladen’s new products.
“I am in the agriculture with my body and soul,” says Mladen. “What we are doing now is a first in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will produce our vegetables which we will process and offer the final quality product at the domestic market.”
“In the first year we will produce 500,000 jars of our products, and we will sell 1,000 tons of fresh vegetables to the retail stores. We will hire an additional 20 to 30 workers to work in the factory. For the next season we could double our production if we get further support in buying an additional tunnel for the pasteurization of vegetables [FARMA II project provided one], vacuum duplicator for ajvar, and an additional oven,” highlights Mladen.
“There needs to be support for the people with the vision. While I hope for more, I am grateful for the support we have received thus far, and I look forward to growing our production and employing more and more people in the agriculture where we belong,” concludes Mladen.