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Volume 7, No. 1SPRING 2004

Building long-term benefits
from immediate needs

Bosnian farmers using 'tools of peace'

A farmer in Bosnia-Herzegovina bales a neighbor’s hay as part of an IOCC program that engenders cooperation across religious and ethnic lines. IOCC programs in the former Yugoslavia help meet the immediate needs of farming families, while promoting peace and reconciliation among neighbors. Photo: IOCC-Banja Luka

Kostajnica, Bosnia-Herzegovina (IOCC) — In places like Kostajnica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a modern irrigation system and a corn seeder are not just agricultural machines — they are tools of peace.

Just ask Miroslav, a Bosnian farmer from the village of Petrinje. In the last two years, he has seen what a simple farm implement donated by IOCC can do, when shared by farmers and used for the benefit of families across religious and ethnic lines.

“IOCC has really helped us a lot, and we hope to continue this partnership,” said Miroslav, whose Farmers’ Association of Kostajnica is growing in membership and productivity.

Providing support to farmers and farmers’ associations in Bosnia is just one of the ways IOCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working together to bring peace and stability to post-war Bosnia.

Since 1998, IOCC has implemented USDA-funded programs of agricultural development, capacity building and micro-credit lending to help refugees returning to Bosnia. IOCC will continue those activities in 2004 with the help of partners such as the University of Maryland’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The people of Kostajnica municipality suffered greatly during the Croatian offensive of 1991 and the Bosnian war of 1992-1995, some from displacement, and others from a shattered economy and damaged homes. The residents were forced to fend for themselves as best they could, often in isolation.

At war’s end, the attention of the international community turned to areas in Bosnia populated by displaced persons and refugees. Kostajnica’s households and villages were damaged by bombs, but the area was not considered a priority because minority ethnic groups did not return immediately.

Meanwhile, Miroslav and his neighbors struggled to make ends meet: They couldn’t afford machines or seeds in large quantities, yet they needed them to sustain their farming operations.

Miroslav desperately tried to find ways to receive either assistance or credit that would allow him to buy the necessary tractor attachments and machinery. With the shortage of vegetables in the markets, he would have no problem paying back the loan, if only he had enough to sell.

Before the war, the government, through a cooperative, provided credit to farmers. But after the war, Miroslav and the other farmers in the municipality had to fend for themselves. Two years ago, Miroslav, along with 30 other farmers, decided to take the initiative to improve their situation. They realized that by working together, they could parlay their group strength into better profits and lower prices for machinery, seeds and fertilizers.

They formed the Farmers’ Association of Kostajnica, with Miroslav as president. The association pools the produce of participating members in order to sell it more competitively. It also serves as a forum for agricultural information and a place where members share methods of marketing their products.

At first, no other farmers in the village joined the association. The war had created a climate of distrust in such cooperative organizations. But slowly, Miroslav and the others began to prove themselves to the other farmers.

“After they saw that our situation was improving and that we were able to start selling cucumbers, peppers and other crops to processing manufacturers, people began to inquire about how to join,” Miroslav said.

The farmers’ association soon caught the attention of IOCC, whose mission in Bosnia includes supporting community-based organizations and building their capacity to solve local problems.

“IOCC believes that to ensure the healthy development of a society devastated by war and ethnic hostility, providing sustainable economic opportunities is essential to reconciliation,” said Mark Ohanian, IOCC Regional Director for Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

With two consecutive grants, IOCC provided the farmers’ association with a gas powered irrigation system, a corn seeder, a plastic greenhouse to help a women’s auxiliary to produce quality seedlings, and office equipment, as well as training in management and marketing.

As part of the arrangement, IOCC required the association to sow 133 acres of land for members with cornfields over three years at a discount, as a repayment contribution for the machines. Each farmer who receives the service will pay a small contribution to the farmers’ association to help cover its operational costs.

With IOCC’s support, the farmers’ association has expanded its capacity to do business and benefit the surrounding community. Its 54 members continue to increase their outputs and their profits. “In the future, I would like more members so we can be even stronger but it is important that these members be committed to agriculture production,” Miroslav said.

Farmer associations like the one in Kostajnica have popped up all over Bosnia. At one IOCC-led training seminar, six farmer associations participated, with members sharing mutual experiences and advice. Miroslav looks forward to the day when an association for the entire country will be created so that farmers’ interests can be lobbied more effectively to the government.

IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou said the Kostajnica farmers’ association is just one example of how IOCC programs bring stability and renewal to war-torn regions.

“By promoting agriculture and economic self-sufficiency in Bosnia, we’re also contributing to peace and reconciliation,” Triantafilou said.

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