The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project supported the Aroma Organica Cooperative to develop 16 new products including three types of organic flour, dried lavender, and spelt pillows.
According to Denis Jandić, member of the Aroma Organica Cooperative, the Livno plateau in Northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina is the largest karst field in Europe, 405 km2, but it is hardly used for the cultivation of cereals or any other crops.
“The main reason for us to establish an agricultural cooperative back in 2015 was to start cultivating the land and to do so in an environmentally sustainable way,” he says.
Earth, air, and water
Denis, together with four other enthusiasts, established the Aroma Organica Cooperative in Livno from scratch. One of them had a hectare and a half of land, and the rest was the vision.
“All we have in Livno is earth, air, and water, and we wanted to make that count," continues Denis. Some of his partners had an NGO background, and that, he says, is what moved them towards environmentally sustainable and organic production, all while having to opt for financially viable crops.
“We knew that we could not compete on the wheat market, but the production of niche organic buckwheat, millet, and spelt made sense, and that is what we did,” Denis explains. Following the establishment of the cooperative, they leased 21 hectares of municipal land for ten years, and the production began. In parallel, they also started experimenting with the cultivation of aromatic herbs, including coriander, anise, and burdock.
Though the core Aroma Organica team, in addition to Denis, who is an IT specialist, also included an economist, an agronomist, a veterinarian, and a sales representative - all of whom now work the land - their business plan was not perfect. Without cereal and herb processing equipment, they could not dry and store their products and had to sell them as fresh semi-products at low prices.
"Selling fresh grain was hardly covering our organic production costs, so we had to start producing value-added products," says Denis.
They applied for the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project grant. The funds they received in 2017 helped them purchase a huller, drying kiln, mill, packaging machine. They also developed their logo and promotional materials and hired short-term experts for medicinal and aromatic plants cultivation and grain processing.
The assistance they received enabled them to develop 16 new added-value products, including organic buckwheat, millet, spelt, rye flour, and bran flakes. Furthermore, they switched to the cultivation of lavender and now produce small bags of dried lavender and spelt pillows.
They sell most of their products online, using the www.farmer.ba platform and their www.aromaorganica.org website. According to Denis, these two sales channels and direct sales at coop premises are sufficient to sell some 10 tons of products they produce annually.
Empowered by women
Product diversification in Aroma Organica required additional staff. Between 2018 and 2019, the cooperative doubled in size attracting five more women, who are now running the show shoulder to shoulder with the five founding members.
“Being ten in cooperative is making it much easier to run business, and higher value products are providing for its sustainability,” says Denis. “Unfortunately, the profits we make from agriculture at the moment are not sufficient to sustain us. Nonetheless, we are working towards further expanding and increasing our production. We hope that one day we will be able to cultivate much more of the Livno plateau and produce enough to start exporting. At that point, we may start living off the agriculture," Denis concludes and invites other farmers who share the same vision for the plateau to join them.