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news 03 Jul 15

Angry Bosnian Farmers Give Away Their Food

As a gesture of desperation, Bosnian farmers handed out food products for free to crowds of Sarajevans on Thursday, demanding government measures to keep agriculture alive.

Elvira M. Jukic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Farmers giving out vegetables I Photo by Elvira M. Jukic  

Bosnian farmers handed out food for free to the public in Sarajevo on Thursday, to express outrage over government inaction and draw attention to their plight.

The free handout was the work of the Union of Agricultural Associations in Bosnia’s Federation entity.

Farmers say they are struggling to survive, unsupported by the authorities, impeded by a hostile business environment and beleaguered by a flood of imports of cheaper fruits and vegetables from abroad.

“I am more sad than satisfied. I would prefer these people to buy these products in supermarkets,” Avdo Muslimovic, from the farmers union, said, commenting on the massive turnout, especially by pensioners.

“Still, it is better to give out these products for free to those who need them than let them go to waste,” he added.

Vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage, zucchini and onions were distributed from a red van on the corner of a street and a park in front of the Federation entity's Finance Ministry.

Kresimir, a thin, middle-aged man, was among the dense crowd of people who came for a few kilos of cabbage or potatoes. He told BIRN that the free food was like a gift from God.

He can rarely afford fresh food since he has to feed his sick wife and three small children on a meagre invalid's pension of 100 euro a month.

“I am grateful to those who gave this. But I would prefer them to be able to work and earn from that, not to give it away for free … the government is to blame for all of this,” he said.

“Still, I need help, as the winter is coming and I have to feed my children,” he added.

Distribution of agriculture products I Photo by Elvira M. Jukic  

Thursday’s protest by angry farmers was only one example of a growing public dissatisfaction with the worsening economic and social situation.

The Bosnian state and the country's two entities have failed to carry out reforms previously agreed with the IMF as a condition for new financial arrangement.

Muslimovic said supermarkets across Bosnia are full of imported products while the authorities do nothing to support domestic production.

He said that farmers in the Federation had not received subsidies either for last year or for the current year - and they need the money in order to maintain production.

Farmers’ associations currently estimate that their members need some 60 million euro to continue their current rate of production.

“We will bring our machinery here to Sarajevo if they don't give us the subsidies,” Muslimovic warned. “We don't care if they [the authorities] lack millions from the IMF for their salaries... but who cannot assure anything extra for agriculture.”

Tija, a Sarajevo resident who was standing on one side of the red van and watching the crowd, told BIRN she was on her way to market to buy groceries when she saw the commotion.

“This is a shame. What is happening to us? I feel sorry both for those people who cannot afford to buy anything and for those farmers who cannot sell,” she told BIRN.

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