The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project supported the Agricultural Cooperative Povrtlarstvo to quadruple the production of sour cabbage and start offering the final product at both domestic and foreign markets.
Mićo Živić is well known in Bijeljina and the wider Semberija region in Northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the last ten years, he has been one of the most enthusiastic vegetable producers there, and as of late the Agricultural Cooperative Povrtlarstvo (Eng: vegetable growing) he leads has started producing and packaging sour cabbage for sale in supermarkets.
“The Sweden/USAID FARMA II project helped us purchase 300 new pickling barrels and more importantly a vacuum packaging machine, a scale and a barcode printer. This will enable us to produce and pack 200 tons of sour cabbage leaves and whole cabbages this season alone. We will start selling this product on the domestic market already this year,” says Mićo.
New packaging and new hope
Mićo and several other farmers established the cooperative back in 2013. By 2019 it included 120 farmers from ten villages in Semberija. Annually the cooperative buys some 2,000 tons of vegetables from its members, of which 200 tons is cabbage. They used to ferment 50 tons of cabbage and sell it in bulk to industrial processors with the remaining 150 tons as a fresh product.
“New barrels and vacuum packaging machine will enable us to quadruple production of sour cabbage and add value to our product. But we will also maintain the production of fresh cabbage," says Mićo. He adds that for their contracted farmers this means that they can now sell almost double the amount of cabbage to the cooperative and make more money.
“Just seeing the new machine and the barrels is sending a positive message to our farmers. They can see some new developments, they can sell more of their product, and they are feeling like a part of something new and better,” he continues. “All of this is giving hope to people that things can get better.”
Corona and new opportunities
While the vacuum-packed sour cabbage is the new product of the cooperative, their main activity up to now has been the production and sale of fresh vegetables to supermarket chains. They also exported some 25 percent to Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic.
“We are focusing on the cabbage now, but we are also trying to vacuum-pack fresh vegetables and offer those to the market as well. With the pandemic all around us, we believe that people will feel more comfortable buying vacuum-packed vegetables that have not been touched by other people coming to supermarkets. I believe we have a niche there, so we are testing how different vegetables react to vacuum packaging,” explains Mićo.
Sour cabbage produced by the cooperative will be sold on the local market, and according to Mićo, they are also getting inquiries about their product from abroad. “I think we stand a good chance to start exporting to Germany soon.”
Summing up 2020
"2020 was a difficult year, no doubt. However, there were also some good developments. While in 2019 we exported 25 percent of our products, in 2020 exports went up to 40 percent,” says Mićo and adds that their production of sour cabbage and other vacuum-packed vegetables is likely to grow in the years to come.
"One thing is certain, this winter, there won't be a lack of sour cabbage in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is also good news knowing how much people here love to eat stuffed cabbage leaves and pickled salads. There are almost no New Year's feasts without those two,” he concludes.