Getting farmers from different ethnic backgrounds to work together was a challenge in the project. Here is Ratko Isouski, a Macedonian, chairman of the "Pollen" bee-keeping association and Redzep Seluani, an Albanian bee-keeper in Tetovo, Macedonia.
Photo: Ann Lindén/LRF Media
Macedonian farmers find a voice
“When I first went there, I was taken by surprise,” says Sten-Rune Lundin from the LRF. “I knew about the ethnic conflicts, but I hadn’t realized that people hated each other so strongly.”
Lundin has been managing the SFARM project since 2001, when Sida asked the LRF to go to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and support the Macedonian farmers in forming a national organization.
At that time, an armed conflict had just been suppressed with the help of mediation from the EU and NATO. But the tensions between the ethnic groups, particularly the Macedonians and the Albanians, were manifest.
Organization and market adjustment
The World Bank initiated some organizing at a local and regional level, though there was no national organization. This became a task for the LRF, and much of this centred on peacemaking.
“The purpose was to build a national farmers’ organization with an understanding of market forces,” Lundin says.
Besides getting farmers from different ethnic backgrounds to work together, LRF also had to help the Macedonian farmers increase production and, in particular, learn how to sell. Thinking in market terms had not been common since before socialist times.
Co-operative serves small farmers
The FFRM was then formed. This had led to the introduction of many farmers’ co-operatives and co-operation between Macedonians and Albanians.
The co-operative is a useful model. The Macedonian farmers often have small farms with small-scale production and need to collaborate, which has worked well in many cases.
However, not everything is perfect. For example, the tensions between the ethnic groups remain, Lundin says, but the hatred he encountered in 2001 has softened considerably.
Above all else, the farmers now have an organization that is met with respect in society. They participate as parties in negotiations and as a part of the formal decision-making process. That in itself is a success and quite unique in the region, says Lundin.
“There is no equivalent anywhere else in the Balkans today, so the neighbouring countries are looking at them as a role model. They’re enormously proud of that,” he says.
Swedish farmers act as coaches
Dori Pavloska-Gjorgjieska is the national project co-ordinator for SFARM. She says that one important success factor has been the LRF’s attitude, which has been particularly evident in the coaching system that has been set up between the LRF and the FFRM.
“Macedonians are tired of experts coming here and telling them what to do,” Pavloska-Gjorgjieska says. “The coaching system is designed as a collegial and more equal co-operation.”
SFARM is in its fourth phase which will end in 2012