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MCC agricultural program symbolizes hope in Bosnia
May 1, 2008
LOKVE, Bosnia-Herzegovina—The fields of potatoes surrounding this picturesque and historical village 15 kilometres south of Mostar provide a tangible symbol that life is slowly returning to some form of normalcy.
The fields also evoke memories of how seed potatoes provided by Mennonite Central Committee helped families re-establish their lives following a three-year war that led to major displacement of people, deaths, injuries and economic destruction.
For many centuries, Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs lived together in peace and harmony in this rich agricultural region.
About 120 families, Bosnian Muslims and Orthodox Serbs, are once again living in Lokve, a village that was abandoned when people were driven from their homes during the 1992-1995 war—a war that started when nationalism replaced communism as a dominant force in the Balkans.
In September 1998, Halime and Zulfo Rahic and about 20 other families displaced by the war were among the first families to return.
These families, and others, lived in collective centres for three years as they worked together to clear the rubble and rebuild their homes. Every building in the village had been damaged or destroyed by bombs and fire and well-established orchards had been plundered.
The Rahic family moved into its newly renovated home in 2001 when electrical services were restored in Lokve. They live with their two sons Ermin, 19, and Haris, 14, and Zulfo’s 83-year-old mother.
Reflecting on the challenges of rebuilding their lives after they lost everything, Zulfo recalled the excitement in the village in 2000. That was the year each family received 100 kilograms of seed potatoes, five kilograms of seed onions, 100 kilograms of fertilizer and 10 bags of vegetable seeds from an agricultural program administered by Church World Service and supported by MCC.
About 110 families lived in the village in 2000. A local cooperative was formed and Zulfo was elected to help administer the program, which required recipients to donate the same quantity of potatoes and onions that they had received to a soup kitchen in the city of Zenica.
“I will never forget how many potatoes we got that year from 100 kilos of seed potatoes,” said Zulfo.
Each family produced enough potatoes to donate 100 kilograms to the soup kitchen and had more than enough potatoes for its own use.
Prices for potatoes were high that year and the large harvest made it possible for each family to earn about 800 to 900 konvertibilna marka, equivalent to about two to three months salary, from the sale of potatoes in nearby markets.
“It was a good injection—a good shot that helped us in many different ways,” he said. The community had also received agricultural equipment, seedlings to start new orchards and other support from Church World Service. This agricultural program ended in 2006.
“This was a good investment—every time I come back here I see progress,” said CWS Project Manager Dzevad Avdagic, noting that the program made it possible for people to return to the village of Lokve and to dozens of other villages.
Although the program has ended, strong community support enables more families to return to their ancestral villages.
Hadze and Zila Sabljic and their three adult children are among the recent returnees. They returned to Lokve in 2005. “The best thing about returning is that we came back to my grandparents’ place,” said Hadze. “I’m very happy and proud to see a roof on this house again.”