Why so many raspberry farmers and abandoned factories?

Driving thru Bosnia on a summer day one notices small scale raspberry farms, abandoned factories, and idle men and woman in town at the coffee shops. In this article we hope to address a few questions about why this is happening.

Study Area of Bugojno municipality.

Before the break up of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and more particularly the Vrbas valley in Central Bosnia was an industrial center. Hairs Gekic and Aida Bidzan in 2015 wrote about the change of industry in this area during the 20th century. In 1961 there were six main industries in the upper Vrbas valley. In 1987 these industries employed 8,891 people. Textile, food, leather, footwear, chemical and electrical industries diversified the regions economy. “Slavko Rodic” company in 1991 employed 4000 workers. The Vrbas valley was a thriving and prosperous region of Central Canton in Bosnia.

Note the step drop in employment. Source: Gekić and Bidžan 2015

Damage and destruction during the civil war along with widespread corruption have affected society of Bosnia in many ways. The previous industries were no longer existent and any valuable industrial machinery was sold out for private gain. Previous industrial workers are now unemployment and dream of emigration. In 2010 only 1,790 workers were employed in industrial sectors. In Bosnia as a whole 421,320 workers were employed in 1987, in 2010 only 144,861 had jobs. Up until 1992 when war occurred industrial growth was expanding. After 1992 industrial production almost stopped and the educated workforce left with it. Source: Gekić and Bidžan 2015

Source: International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT database. Data retrieved in March 2017.


A typical raspberry farm
A typical raspberry farm

Unable to find employment many citizens have to turn to traditional plots of land that have been previously left abandoned. Previous to the industrial revolution at the turn of the 19th century most families were subsistence farmers who also produced one or two cash crops that can be used in exchange for goods and services. With the collapse of the modern economy in Bosnia people have turned to the old fashioned traditional money making methods. International organizations such as Islamic Relief and USAID have been developing markets for these new agricultural cash crops and providing education and loans for farmers. Due to the small sizes of farms and the climate labor intensive high yield berry agriculture has been popular. Families in Central Bosnia rely on agriculture for survival.

The change in job opportunities from factories to farms is affecting younger generations by promoting farm work over white and blue collar opportunities. Most Bosnians are literate and many are well educated. Almost all children in Bosnia attend and graduate primary and secondary schools. College is attainable for almost all Bosnians as is it is heavily subsidized by the state. Summer is the picking raspberries season and families need to get up very early before the sun hits to pick the raspberries. This kind of work is not sparing children who spend their summer vacations on raspberry patches with their parents. Instead of going to after school programs to remain competitive with other industrialized countries Bosnian children instead work with their parents on the farms to help generate family’s income.

Berry production has radically increased in recent years. Source: FAOSTAT

The shift from industrial to agricultural society after the civil war has been slowly changing the educated workforce. Before the war there were four times as many job opportunities. After the war the brightest left to seek their fortunes elsewhere leaving Bosnia. Those who stayed see high unemployment rates and turn to traditional methods of employment including farming. Higher levels of learning are slowly being seen as irrelevant and wasteful to the younger generations who see their future following their parents footsteps in growing crops. Bosnia and the International Community should be more concerned for diversifying the economy so it does not rely upon cash crops to survive. Low interests loans and programs should be set up to encourage young entrepreneurs to set up internet based businesses and children after school programs designed to promote education in the new global economy.

As an added note there are have reports that the amount of raspberry exports from Bosnia is reaching its limits.  In 2016 some found that more shipping and freezing facilities were needed to prevent a glut in supply of the crop.

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