IOCC, USDA Contributing to Peace, Prosperity in Bosnia

Baltimore, MD (August 23, 2004) — In places like Prijedor, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a hay baler is more than an agricultural machine — it is a tool of peace.

Just ask Drago, a Bosnian dairy farmer from the village of Nistavci. In the last two years, he and his neighbors have witnessed the positive effects of a simple farm implement donated by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) — 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 Drago, whose Farmers’ Association of Prijedor 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 to bring peace and stability to post-war Bosnia.

Since 1998, IOCC has implemented USDA-funded programs of agricultural development, civil-society building and micro-credit lending in Bosnia.

IOCC is continuing those activities in 2004 under a new $8.7 million agreement with USDA and with assistance from the University of Maryland’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

“Agriculture is one of the most promising sectors of the economy in Bosnia today,” said Samir Ishak, IOCC director of operations. “With the help of IOCC, farming communities are becoming more self-sufficient and pointing the way to a brighter future for Bosnia.”

Under the new agreement, IOCC will form 10 new groups of 30 to 50 farmers each and provide them with agricultural equipment, livestock, seeds, fertilizers, tools, technical assistance and training to help them increase their production.

Drago learned the importance of such cooperative arrangements two years ago, when he and five other farmers in the village formed the Farmers’ Association of Prijedor. They realized that by working together, they could parlay their group strength into better profits and lower prices for machinery and livestock.

The association pools all the milk and produce of the participating members in order to sell them on a more competitive level. It also serves as a forum for agricultural information and a place where members share methods of marketing their products.

The farmers’ association then caught the attention of IOCC, whose mission in Bosnia includes supporting community organizations and building their capacity to address local issues.

“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.

In addition to agriculture, the new IOCC-USDA program seeks to strengthen civil society and the economy in Bosnia through small-business loans, grants, training workshops and other forms of assistance.

IOCC provided the farmers’ association with hay balers and office equipment, as well as training in management and marketing. As part of the arrangement, IOCC required the association to bale 16 acres of land free-of-charge for 22 members over three years as an in-kind repayment for the implements.

With IOCC’s support, the farmers’ association has expanded its capacity to do business and benefit the surrounding community. Its 50 members continue to increase their outputs and their profits. “In the future, I would like more members so we can be even stronger,” Drago said.

IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou said the Prijedor 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.

To learn more about IOCC’s humanitarian programs in Bosnia and 15 other countries, please visit www.iocc.org. Founded in 1992, IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA).

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