The UN Advises Bosnia and Herzegovina Authorities: How to Overcome the Crisis in Agriculture and Ensure Food Security
26 September 2023
The extremely high rate of inflation, which amounted to 14.1 percent early this year, drastically increased the living costs of citizens and severely challenged certain economic sectors. An illustrative example is the field of agriculture.
The costs of raw materials have increased, some by up to 200 percent, which has led to an increase in the prices of all foodstuffs. Thus, wheat flour rose in price by 55 percent, beef by 31 percent, milk by 62 percent, butter by 42 percent, sugar by 53 percent, and edible oil by as much as 118 percent. These are the statistics from the Assessment Report of the Global, Multidimensional Crisis of the Agricultural and Food Sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the period September 2021 - September 2022, prepared by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization. In addition, in 2023 the UN Development Program (UNDP) conducted two assessments – Mapping of Soup Kitchens in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rapid Food Security Assessment for the Vulnerable Population Groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which uncovered the extent of food insecurity in Bosnia and Herzegovina and provided a set of strategic recommendations to help address this challenge. The assessments were supported by the UN Global Fund for Sustainable Development.
The weaker purchasing power of citizens
And that again affected the citizens. Unfortunately, negatively, as it weakened their purchasing power.
In such an economic and social environment, in which life is complicated for both producers and consumers and where prices for transport, services, and goods are soaring, the consequences are felt the hardest by those who earn the least, and who are at risk of even greater poverty. In this context, we can quote the increasingly frequent statements of traders that citizens continue to buy fruits and vegetables by the piece, one potato or tomato, two peppers... They no longer have enough for a kilo.
The Assessment Report also describes how the local authorities reacted to such a situation. This report is part of a set of documents prepared to support governments at all levels in responding to the challenges faced by the agricultural sector in BiH and globally.
Lack of a coordinated approach of BiH institutions to support citizens
The assessment points out that BiH's response to the crisis in the agricultural sector showed a lack of coordination across the various authorities which delayed reactions and aid measures, all due to a disparate administrative structure that lacks cohesion and harmonization.
As a result, measures aimed at preventing and mitigating the consequences of the crisis whilst timely and welcome were not sufficient. The key measure at the state level was the reduction of customs duties on fertilizers imported from third countries. The relevant entity ministries increased the budgets for agriculture and introduced a measure of direct price control by determining the maximum amount of margins for basic foodstuffs and other products.
Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in BiH Ingrid Macdonald emphasized that the previously mentioned UN publication also showed that there is no harmonized agricultural policy in BiH.
It is fair to say that agricultural policies and interventions that are divided between as many administrative units as there are in BiH cannot contribute to a stronger development of agricultural production. BiH Farmers are competing against well-organized agricultural industries in the region and globally. Additionally, BiH has the lowest agricultural budget in the Western Balkans region, and trade barriers for imports are the lowest in Europe. As a consequence, in the observed period BiH recorded a -2.50 million trade deficit in the agricultural and food sector. Also, the study shows that the majority of agriculture producers in BiH are smallholders. To help them continue with production as prices of agriculture inputs increased, the entity ministries of agriculture lowered the minimum threshold of farm size and farm production - says Macdonald.
Insufficient investments in the agricultural and food sector
What the governments in BiH are doing and the budgetary funds they allocate is not adequate, because, as Macdonald emphasizes, investments in the agricultural and food sector are insufficient to contribute to stronger competitiveness of domestic production.
Even the financial subsidies in agriculture are unevenly allocated. For instance, about 65 percent is directed towards a single sector, in the case of BiH to the milk sector, while the remaining 35 percent is divided across all other value chains. - Macdonald points out.
All the facts mentioned in the Publication are best felt by producers and householders who feed their families by earning money in agricultural activities. As Bosnia and Herzegovina has not had an agricultural census for more than 70 years, since the 1960es, the relevant entity ministries have a database of registered producers only, for subsidies purpose, which do not even nearly cover the overall agricultural production.
And in such circumstances, where a farmer who cultivates 100 hectares of land has the same status as an individual who cultivates a garden as a hobby, where subsidies are insufficient and uneven, there are more and more producers who quit and turn to other activities. This can be catastrophic and a great threat to the extinction of farming in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and consequently agricultural production. In that case, it would partially be the reason for the reduction in food production, which would have a negative impact on the entire population.
Growing concern about food security
All of the above can be put into context with the results of the assessments of food security among vulnerable population groups and the state of play of soup kitchens in the country, conducted by UNDP. The assessment focused on the most vulnerable population groups - those who fall “between the cracks” of the social protection system and are left to themselves for their daily food intake.
The results of the survey among 175 individuals and 250 households country-wide revealed that the current economic instability caused a rise in food insecurity among the most vulnerable as compared to the pandemic years. As many as 77 percent of respondents are at risk of food deprivation and food insecurity, while 32 percent of respondents define themselves as “food insecure,” due to frequent food deprivation. The assessment also showed that persons who are left out of the social protection system are at a higher risk of chronic food insecurity than those in the system and are left to their own devices when it comes to securing the next meal.
More than 18,500 people in need across Bosnia and Herzegovina got access to free meals through different forms of soup kitchens in 2022. There are 55 soup kitchens across the country that cater to the food needs of those in need – such as pensioners, unemployed, single parents, low-income families, people with disabilities, Roma. However, there are 70 local governments that do not have soup kitchens and hence – do not offer food services to the most vulnerable population groups.
As the Resident Representative of UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina Steliana Nedera emphasizes, the right to food is a human right, which ensures that all human beings live free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. She stressed that a thorough policy action is required to strengthen the social protection system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and secure that the right to food is equally respected. She also pointed that in September 2023, UNDP, together with communities, authorities and businesses will facilitate a series of public dialogues across the country to help prioritise the policy actions that can alleviate food insecurity in the country.
Key recommendation – common agricultural policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina
If we return to the beginning of the text, it will be easy to conclude that a regulated system of agriculture and food production is the only adequate systemic solution for a simpler, more accessible, and cheaper food supply for all categories of the population, including the most vulnerable.
As regards recommendations for solving all the mentioned problems, we believe that it is necessary to establish a common agricultural policy in the country, that is, to harmonize the agricultural policy and increase the budget allocations for agriculture as well as investments. In this regard, I draw special attention to the EU pre-accession funds for agriculture and rural development. Additionally, it is necessary to change trade policies and adopt measures that will protect domestic producers from import price dumping and unfair import competition, and the domestic market from price increases on world markets. It is also necessary to introduce ad-hoc measures in crisis situations, such as the reduction of the import tax, which also reduces import taxes on food items, agricultural inputs, and equipment - Macdonald concluded, appealing to all levels of government in BiH to better understand the role and contribution that women can make to the development of the agricultural sector.
Key recommendations – food insecurity
A comprehensive policy action is required to strengthen the social protection system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and secure that the right to food is equally respected and no one is left behind. Re-thinking of social services from the viewpoint of food security is needed, alongside improvements in food centers’ models, infrastructure and resourcing. These efforts need to be inter-connected with effective measures to increase employment, improve livelihoods and reduce poverty, especially among the most vulnerable population groups.