The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project is helping BiH medicinal and aromatic plant producers and processors to grow their business, all while increasing the number of women and young people involved in the sector.

“The prices of medicinal and aromatic plants are not falling. We have not reached the levels of hyper-production, and the demand and buy off are steady and secure," says Petar Ninić of Agro Biznis Servis from Banja Luka, Northern Bosnia.

“Further to this, medicinal and aromatic plants can be used to make a great number of final products ranging from soaps and creams, lotions and herbal teas, to aroma lamps, and so on. Growing medicinal plants is also a complementary activity, to beekeeping for example, and it is mostly organic.”

Women and youth

For all those reasons, and to involve more women and young people from rural areas in the production and processing of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project has engaged Petar, and a few other consultants, to provide a practical training course on a sustainable business model in the MAP sector.

As the COVID-19 pandemic prevention measures have eased up, they can go back into the field and organize group sessions.

“The training course we are now providing to more than 30 women and young people from Banja Luka, Srbac and Skelani regions cover all the steps, from the soil preparation, over sowing, weed control and fertilization, to harvesting, processing of the medicinal plants and making the final products. Furthermore, it will also include sessions on entrepreneurship and marketing, thus closing the full circle," explains Petar.

He notes that all of the training participants are already either working full-time or part-time in agriculture, and have decided to enter the world of MAP, diversify the production, and increase their incomes.

“As some of the training participants may not be able to invest in the equipment needed for MAP processing, we will connect them with the bigger MAP processors in their respective regions, who still need more of the raw materials,” adds Petar, and highlights: "We are now also working with the younger agricultural producers who are in their late twenties or early thirties. This is very important as they are the future and the salvation for the agro-business in BiH."

Expanding the base

For Mladen Orašanin, the owner of Bilje i ljekobilje from Sokolac, MAP production, and processing is more than business. “I love what I do," he says. "I first started collecting wild medicinal and aromatic plants with my father back in the 90ies. As our business started picking up, we registered the company in 2015, and started exporting juniper berries to Germany.”

“With the support of the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project, in 2017, we got our first industrial distillation unit of 1,500 liters, and we invested in the drying kiln. With that equipment we could start processing large quantities of plants and start exporting, not just the raw material, but also the final added-value products, such as essential oils and dried herbs," explains Mladen.

He notes that their business bloomed in 2017 and that they processed some 300 tons of different plants and mushrooms bought from more than 100 contracted farmers and collectors. But things changed.

"In this business, we depend on nature. 2018 and 2019 were bad years with harsh weather conditions and our business shrank by 80 percent. FARMA II project was again there for us, and with the right advice and training, we decided to start cultivating our herbs. After thorough analysis of market demand, we decided to sow chamomile on ten hectares of land."

Training continues

Mladen did not have the luxury of in-person training, but the project consultant worked with him online and took him through the process of soil preparation and sowing of chamomile which was first for him. "We tested the land and it was acidic at first. The consultant instructed me how to proceed with the soil calcification and once the soil was right, at the end of April, we sowed the chamomile,” he says. “I can already see the results.”

Mladen opted to start producing his MAPs and be less dependent on the gifts of nature. But he is also starting to work on changing the perceptions of agricultural producers towards the cultivation of MAPs. "It is difficult to convince someone to start producing medicinal plants after they have been producing potatoes for a hundred years, and we have so much potential for the medicinal plants in the whole of BiH.”