The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project supported Bionatura in purchasing new packaging and grain hulling machines. With the increased production capacity and improved product quality, they are now starting to export pasta to Germany.
Many in Bosnia and Herzegovina associate Vareš with mining. What they tend to forget is that the town itself is set in the valley, but that the municipal territory spreads over large meadows, highlands, and forests, all suitable for agriculture.
Bećir Cigura, owner and director of Bionatura, a processor of grain, aromatic plants, forest fruit, and mushrooms, saw the potential for the development of organic food production in Vareš. In 2003 he took first steps in that direction.
Starting small but thinking big
“In 2003, we established Bionatura and began buying and processing nettle, wild garlic, dandelion, rosehip, and different kinds of mushrooms, into spices and food additives,” says Bećir.
“However, we wanted to expand our production and also create added value organic products,” continues Bećir, and those were varieties of pasta mixed with aromatic herbs and mushrooms.
In 2005, Bionatura started producing pasta using spelt, rye, and buckwheat. As years passed, they increased the number of products to a total of 32, including four types of flour, 13 types of pasta, and ten spices.
Bionatura now annually processes some 110 tons of raw materials. They contract fifteen farmers who supply aromatic plants, mushrooms, and forest fruit, but different grain varieties are not available in sufficient quantities and quality on the local market.
“We buy buckwheat from farmers in Livno, but we mostly import other grain varieties, especially spelt,” explains Bećir, and adds that spelt accounts for more than a half of raw materials in their production.
“We tried to find hulled spelt on the local market. However, prices were not competitive, and quantities were insufficient. Also, our earlier attempts to try and motivate farmers to grow spelt were not all that successful since we needed already hulled spelt and could not process non-peeled grain,” he elaborates.
The first-ever support
Bionatura recently experienced several positive developments. They received support from the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project to purchase equipment that will enable them to hull raw grain, as opposed to buying already peeled grain, and to machine-pack products, as opposed to doing it manually.
“We have asked for support numerous times, but the FARMA II project was the first one to ever see and understand our potential," says Bećir.
The hulling machine will do two things. Firstly, it will enable Bionatura to buy non-hulled spelt and other grains at a lower price. More importantly, this will enable them to take another swing at developing the network of locally contracted farmers who would grow spelt for Bionatura. To that end, FARMA II also supported Bionatura in producing a spelt growing manual that is now being made available to farmers in the Vareš area. The packaging machine, on the other hand, will enable them to increase their outputs many fold.
Exporting to Germany and other markets
Thus far, Bionatura sold its products at the BiH market through big retail chains and bio-food shops. With the new equipment that will enable them to produce and package more products at more competitive prices, Bećir started looking for new markets and he was successful.
“We managed to sign the first contract with a company from Germany. Our initial order is for 12.5 tons of five varieties of pasta. We will produce those under their brand and have already received 50,000 bags to package the product,” says Bećir.
The buyer from Germany is just the first step. Bećir plans to increase Bionatura’s production by 50 percent, all of which should be for foreign markets. "I hope that we will be more successful in motivating local farmers to grow spelt as we can now cover all the stages of grain processing. This way, we would have a purely domestic product that is sold both domestically and internationally, and that is our vision.”