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More than 560 farmers from Northwestern Bosnia produce over 1.5 million tons of fruit and vegetables for export to Hungary, Germany, France, and Turkey.

"When the pandemic started, I was afraid that our exports might be affected if borders were to be closed or if we were to be unable to ship our product to the markets we export to," says Nermin Bašić, who heads Bašo Ltd. His company buys fruits and vegetables from more than 560 farmers from Velika Kladuša municipality and the area called Bosnian Krajina, adjacent to the Croatan border.

Taking on the risk and moving forward

"I reached out to the higher levels of authority seeking their advice regarding the situation with the exports, but I got no response. Then I decided to continue working as planned and to take on all the risk,” explains Nermin. On one end, he contracts the farmers who produce gherkins, raspberries, and strawberries, and collect forest fruits and mushrooms. On the other end, he has contracts with the buyers in Hungary, Germany, France, and Turkey to whom he exports.

"We now produce 700 tons of gherkins, some 620 tons of raspberries, and two to three hundred tons of forest fruits and mushrooms. Out of these amounts, I produce some ten percent, while the rest is produced by the farmers we work with," says Nermin, and ads that Bašo Ltd now has nine full-time employees and some 40 seasonal workers.

What is the most important to him, at this point, is that the export contracts are in place and that the transport across the borders is becoming quicker and cheaper, following the period marked by long queues and increased freight prices.

Greater interest for agriculture

The Government of Sweden and USAID first supported Bašo Ltd in 2011 with the installation of a freezing line. "We freeze 90 percent of our products before they are exported, and we export about 95 percent of all our products. This amounts to more than 1.5 million tons of fruits and vegetables per year," notes Nermin.

The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project recently supported them in purchasing an additional tractor and auxiliary equipment which combined with the use of cotton foils helps increase yields of gherkins. "We now have greater yields of gherkins that are coming from smaller land parcels. I know this sounds strange, but we now produce more gherkins while using less land."

Nonetheless, the number of people who are now engaging in fruit and vegetable production is on the rise, and more land is being cultivated since the outbreak of the pandemic.

"I would say that in comparison to 2019, people are now using 20 percent more land. Thanks to the municipal and FBiH subsidies, the number of people engaged in agriculture has increased. Velika Kladuša Municipality alone provided planting materials worth BAM 280,000. On the other hand, middle-aged people who had unstable jobs in the EU came back to BiH due to pandemic and are now working in agriculture,” concludes Nermin.

One is to hope that, with steady exports of fruits and vegetables, these people will remain in BiH, also after the pandemic is over.