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The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project supported the training of 30 women in the production and processing of medicinal and aromatic plants. Ten have already initiated production of teas, tinctures, balms, essential oils, and cosmetics under their own brands.

"This was a great initiative," says Vesna Smiljanović, President of the Association of Women from Srbac, Northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. She represents one of the three associations of women that took part in the Sweden/USAID FARMA II supported training on the cultivation and processing of medicinal and aromatic plants.

The training lasted six months. It included 30 women from Srbac, Banja Luka, and Skelani, ten of whom already started producing teas, tinctures, balms, essential oils, and cosmetics under their own brands.

"Our training was all-encompassing," continues Vesna. "We learned how to prepare and fertilize soil, plant and water herbs, and when and how to harvest them." Once they were done with the production part, they moved to the processing. That included drying of herbs for teas and the extraction of essential oils from fresh herbs, and the production of tinctures, balms, creams, lotions, soaps, and macerates.

"Our training also included sessions on business planning and marketing. Several women, who showed the most interest and initiative, were also supported in branding their products. I am proud to say that they are already selling their products," she adds.

Hobby turns into a vocation

Collecting milfoil and St. John's wort for teas is a hobby that Ljilja Nuždić, member of the Association of Women Srbac, inherited from her father. Some ten years ago, she produced her first balm and tincture from comfrey. "I used it to treat my rheumatic pain. It worked, so I also gave it out as a gift to people who had similar problems," she says.

Ljilja joined the training to turn her hobby into something more substantial. "I collected and processed several herbs, but my knowledge in this area was limited. I attended all the training sessions, and it was a completely new experience for me." In addition to her comfrey balm and tincture Ljilja now produces St. John's wort and rosemary oils and a tincture made of six different herbs. All these products are uniquely branded and she sells them in the association's store and promotional stands.

For Cana Stojković, Ljilja's colleague, cultivating and processing medicinal herbs is a family tradition. "I knew how to cultivate herbs, but processing was something we did in an amateur way," she says. "The big difference is that now, following the training, I process herbs in a professional manner and I also learned a few new tricks."

Cana processes marigold, lavender, laurel, sage, mint, and many wild herbs and produces creams, macerates, lotions, and teas. Her products are now also branded and sold.

"Collecting and cultivating medicinal herbs was our hobby and we never planned to make any profit off of it. But following the six-month-long training course and especially the session that focused on marketing and entrepreneurship, we decide to turn our hobbies into small businesses and to change our habit of gifting everything we produce," says Cana.

Making a living

Planta Bella, an agriculture consulting firm from Trebinje, received a grant from the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project to conduct the training for Ljilja, Cana, and 28 other women just like them. Petar Ninić, one of the trainers they engaged, explains that the overall aim of the training was to engage more women in the commercial production and processing of medicinal herbs and help them supplement their income.

"We achieved a very good result here. Out of 30 women who took part in the training, ten are already processing herbs on a commercial basis and are starting to make money. We hope that more of our training participants will soon do the same," he says.

For the Association of Women Srbac, established less than a year ago, this was the first such training. "We need to thank Vesna for establishing the association. If it was not for the association, we would probably not take part in the training. This shows that if we work together, we can achieve much more. Thanks to the association, things started happening in Srbac, and thanks to the support of the FARMA II project, we now have a new vocation," concludes Lilja.