The extremely high inflation rate, which stood at 14.1 percent at the start of this year, has significantly increased the cost of living for citizens and put serious strain on certain economic sectors. An illustrative example is the field of agriculture.
Raw material costs have increased, in some cases by as much as 200 percent, leading to increased prices for all food items. Thus, the price of wheat flour increased by 55 percent, that of beef by 31 percent, that of milk by 62 percent, that of butter by 42 percent, that of sugar by 53 percent and that of edible oil by 118 percent. These are the statistics of Report assessing the multidimensional global crisis in the agricultural and food sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the period September 2021 – September 2022, prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN). Additionally, in 2023, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) conducted two assessments: Mapping soup kitchens in Bosnia and Herzegovina And Rapid assessment of food security of vulnerable population groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which revealed the extent of food insecurity in Bosnia and Herzegovina and provided a set of policy recommendations to help address this challenge. The evaluations were supported by the United Nations Global Fund for Sustainable Development.
The lower purchasing power of citizens
And this has once again affected the citizens. Unfortunately, negatively, because it weakened their purchasing power.
In such an economic and social environment, where life is complicated for both producers and consumers and where the prices of transport, services and goods are soaring, the consequences are felt hardest by those who earn the least and who are at risk of even greater poverty. In this context, we can cite the increasingly frequent declarations of traders according to which citizens continue to buy fruits and vegetables by the piece, a potato or a tomato, two peppers… They do not have any not enough for a kilo.
The evaluation report also describes the reaction of local authorities to such a situation. This report is part of a set of documents prepared to help governments at all levels respond to the challenges facing the agricultural sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina and around the world.
Lack of a coordinated approach of Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions to support citizens
The evaluation highlights that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s response to the crisis in the agricultural sector showed a lack of coordination between different authorities, which delayed reactions and aid measures, all due to a structural disparate administrative structure that lacks cohesion and harmonization.
As a result, measures to prevent and mitigate the consequences of the crisis, while timely and welcome, have not been enough. The key measure at the state level was the reduction of customs duties on fertilizers imported from third countries. The relevant ministries increased agricultural budgets and introduced a direct price control measure by determining the maximum amount of margins for basic foodstuffs and other products.
Ingrid Macdonald, UN Resident Coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina, pointed out that the previously mentioned UN publication also showed that there was no harmonized agricultural policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It is fair to say that agricultural policies and interventions distributed among as many administrative units as there are in Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot contribute to a stronger development of agricultural production. Farmers in Bosnia and Herzegovina compete with well-organized agricultural industries in the region and around the world. Additionally, Bosnia and Herzegovina has the lowest agricultural budget in the Western Balkans region and trade barriers to imports are the lowest in Europe. As a result, during the observed period, BiH recorded a trade deficit of -2.50 million in the agricultural and food sector. Furthermore, the study shows that the majority of agricultural producers in Bosnia and Herzegovina are small farmers. To help them continue production as prices of agricultural inputs increased, the entities’ agriculture ministries lowered the minimum threshold for farm size and production – explains Macdonald.
Insufficient investment in the agricultural and food sector
What the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina are doing and the budgetary funds they are allocating are not adequate because, as Macdonald points out, investments in the agricultural and food sector are insufficient to contribute to greater competitiveness of national production.
Even financial subsidies in the agricultural sector are unevenly distributed. For example, around 65 percent is directed to a single sector, in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the dairy sector, while the remaining 35 percent is distributed among all other value chains. – Macdonald emphasizes.
All the facts mentioned in the publication are best felt by producers and households who feed their families by earning money through agricultural activities. As Bosnia and Herzegovina has not held an agricultural census for over 70 years, since the 1960s, the relevant ministries have a database of registered producers only, for subsidy purposes, which does not even cover 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 unequal, more and more producers are leaving and turn to other activities. This can be catastrophic and pose a great threat of extinction of agriculture in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and consequently agricultural production. In this case, this would partly explain the reduction in food production, which would have a negative impact on the entire population.
Growing concern over food safety
All of the above can be put into context with the results of assessments of food security among vulnerable population groups and the status of soup kitchens in the country, carried out by UNDP. The assessment focused on the most vulnerable population groups, those who fall “through the cracks” of the social protection system and are left to their own devices for daily nutrition.
The results of the survey of 175 people and 250 households across the country revealed that the current economic instability has caused an increase in food insecurity among the most vulnerable compared to the pandemic years. Up to 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 people excluded from the social protection system are at higher risk of chronic food insecurity than those who benefit from the system and are left to their own devices when it comes to securing the next meal .
More than 18,500 people in need in Bosnia and Herzegovina gained access to free meals through different forms of soup kitchens in 2022. There are 55 soup kitchens across the country that meet the dietary needs of people in need – such as retirees, the unemployed, singles. parents, low-income families, disabled people, Roma. However, 70 local governments do not have soup kitchens and therefore do not provide catering services to the most vulnerable population groups.
As Steliana Nedera, UNDP Resident Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, points out, the right to food is a human right that ensures that all human beings live free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. . She stressed that in-depth political action is needed to strengthen the social protection system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and ensure that the right to food is also respected. She also highlighted that in September 2023, UNDP, in collaboration with communities, authorities and businesses, will facilitate a series of public dialogues across the country to help prioritize policy actions that can reduce 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 people. the population, including the most vulnerable.
Regarding the recommendations to solve 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 allocations budgetary measures for agriculture as well as investments. In this regard, I draw particular attention to the EU pre-accession funds for agriculture and rural development. In addition, it is necessary to change trade policies and adopt measures that will protect domestic producers from price dumping of imports and unfair import competition, as well as the domestic market from price increases in world markets. It is also necessary to introduce ad hoc measures in crisis situations, such as reducing import taxes, which also reduce import taxes on food products, agricultural inputs and equipment – a concluded Macdonald, calling on all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina to better understand the role and contribution that women can make to the development of the agricultural sector.
Key recommendations – food insecurity
Comprehensive political action is needed to strengthen the social protection system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and ensure that the right to food is also respected and that no one is left behind. There is a need to rethink social services from a food security perspective, as well as improve food center models, infrastructure and resources. These efforts must be linked to effective measures to increase employment, improve livelihoods and reduce poverty, particularly among the most vulnerable population groups.
Communications and advocacy officer