The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project is helping the Trebinje Women’s Center to start the production of the organic figs. The center will establish the first organic fig orchard in BiH, and it will work for the benefit of vulnerable women.

“What we are doing here is a visionary project,” says Ljiljana Čičković, Manager of the Women’s Center from Trebinje, in Eastern Hercegovina. "So far, our part of the country was known by wine, honey, and cheese.  We think that time has come for the figs to also become one of our brands."

"Figs are a fully usable tree fruit and they do not require too much attention throughout the year. For them to grow in the orchards, they require a very specific micro-location along with the right soil composition, and the Mediterranean climate. That is exactly what we have here and that is why Trebinje and most parts of Herzegovina are suitable for the cultivation of figs,” she adds.

“We will establish the first organic fig orchard in BiH and more importantly, this farm will work for the benefit of women who are victims of domestic violence."

Figs and women empowerment

The idea to start with the organic fig production was born in 2016. Back then, the Trebinje Women’s Center established the Social Cooperative called Smokvica, or Little Fig. Its members are ten women and girls who are victims of domestic violence with little or no income.

Ljiljana and her colleagues are mentoring the cooperative members. To help them with resocialization and economic empowerment, the center is including the cooperative members in different agricultural and economic activities. They are doing this in the preparation for the real deal, running the fig orchard.

In 2019, the center supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of the Republika Srpska and the City of Trebinje, got the long-term lease on the nine hectares of land near Trebinje. Through several phases, they will turn it into the first organic fig farm in BiH, and the second largest in the region.

“The land we got was difficult to prepare for the planting of the fig trees. There were a lot of stones and bushes. Once we were ready to make the last preparations and plant the figs, the pandemic came," explains Ljiljana. "We had to postpone our activities, but we did not give up. Instead of the spring planting, we will proceed with the autumn planting. By November this year, we will plant some 700 fig trees on the three hectares of land, and that will be just the beginning phase."

Ljiljana further notes that the cooperative will give preferential treatment to women once it starts employing permanent and seasonal workers. Furthermore, all the profits the orchard earns will go to the cooperative members who are the women who were victims of domestic violence.

Learning from the best

Growing an organic fig is not something that should be taken for granted, and those who do it still need to learn a lot. For example, the first 700 fig trees going to be planted are two years old. Nonetheless, it will take three years of cultivation at the orchard for those trees to be considered organic.

“Our farm will be the first organic fig farm in Bosnia and Hercegovina, and we want it to be representative. We have therefore opted to learn from the best, and the top experts in this field are from Rovinj in Croatia where they grow 52 fig varieties,” says Ljiljana.

Following the land allocation and the beginning of soil amelioration, in December 2019, the Women Center Trebinje applied for a grant with the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project to support the four members of the center and the cooperative in attending the training course on the organic fig production and processing in Rovinj. The grant was approved and the four went to Rovinj in February 2020, just ahead of the outbreak of the pandemic.

The grant was also to be used to organize an additional training course in Trebinje for 20 participants. At this training, the four, supported by the head lecturer and mentor from Rovinj, would transfer the knowledge they acquired to those interested. This activity was postponed due to the pandemic, but it was held in late June. The mentor from Rovinj participated in the training over a video link.

"The Croatian lecturers we worked with are experts. The knowledge they passed on to us will help us grow our autochthonous fig varieties in Herzegovina," says Ljiljana.

Taking the time and adding value

The training participants were selected through a public call. Though they are not Smokvica cooperative members, they will be offered to work with the cooperative as contracted farmers.

“Running an orchard requires a lot of time and effort. Fig trees need seven to eight years to mature and start giving a sufficient amount of fruit. Once that happens, we will focus our attention on producing value-added products from figs and on product diversification. Until then, we will plant six more hectares and we will try to get more vulnerable women to start working at the orchard. We will also try to motivate small framers from Trebinje to initiate production and become our contractors. All of this will make our vision become a reality and will turn figs into the new brand of East Hercegovina," concludes Liljana.