Better life: Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Farmer Field Schools strengthen resilience against disasters

By Nabil Gangi, Officer in Charge for the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Plum producers in Grdacac municipality. ©Vlado Pijunovic, FAO


Agricultural losses from disasters, including floods, fires, droughts, and other catastrophes, average USD 13 billion per year globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report "The Impact of Disasters and Crises on Agriculture and Food Security," released in early 2023.

The omnipresent risks affecting agriculture are growing at a rate that outstrips efforts to reduce them, and it is mostly the people living in disaster-affected areas – especially the women – who bear the brunt of the losses.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a "medium" overall disaster risk rating. Heavy rainstorms and the resulting flooding and landslides are the most frequently occurring and damaging natural disasters here.  Agriculture, critical to the national economy, is the sector hardest hit by these crises, hindering its development and limiting overall economic prosperity. As climate change continues to increase disaster risks and hazard vulnerabilities, the country has joined global mitigation efforts such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Plum and apple producers in Trebinje City ©Vlado Pijunovic, FAO

As the lead specialized agency for food and agriculture, and thus a key player in disaster risk management in rural areas, FAO has joined the Disaster Risk Reduction for Sustainable Development in Bosnia and Herzegovina programme, financed by the Government of Switzerland, to support disaster risk governance in the country, in line with the priority actions of the Sendai Framework.

To improve resilience under this effort, FAO has established Farmer Field Schools (FFS) in ten rural communities in vulnerable areas. Households growing fruit trees often have limited knowledge of agricultural best practices, and recent dramatic increases in input prices have added additional pressure on their production capacity. FAO’s Farmer Field Schools facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experiences among farmers and encourage practical experiments, enabling them to develop skills and knowledge in drought- and flood-tolerant fruit tree cultivation throughout the cropping cycle.

So far in 2023, more than 200 farmers – 64 of them women – have benefited from FAO training on various agricultural best practices and disaster-resistant cultivation of fruit trees and other crops. This includes sustainable cultivation practices related to summer pruning and methods to effectively protect orchards from hail. Through practical training and peer learning, the FAO Farmer Field School method has taught farmers how to employ mitigation measures to reduce disaster risks.

Raspberry producers in Srebrenica municipality. ©Vlado Pijunovic, FAO

In the long run, these tools are expected to lead to an increase in agricultural production and to an improvement in product quality, contributing to a better environment and a better life for many smallholder families in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The evidence shows that engaging in proactive disaster risk management and prevention is more effective than mere reactive disaster response.

Additionally, many disaster risk reduction practices add value to production even in non-disaster contexts, providing farmers with an additional incentive to incorporate greater consideration of natural hazards into existing agronomic and natural resources management practices. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, every dollar invested in risk reduction and prevention can save up to USD 15 in post-disaster recovery.

Combined with the participatory Farmer Field School approach, disaster-resistant practices can significantly enhance the resilience of farmers to the negative effects of climate change. As an informal adult education approach, Farmer Field Schools facilitate learning through direct experience, integrating scientific insights into local knowledge systems. This helps to ensure the continuity and sustainability of the intervention, as farmers can carry on as long as they see the benefits for themselves and learn to take the development of their farms into their own hands.

I am proud of the significant results these efforts have achieved in such a short time. This makes me all the more hopeful for the future. With great enthusiasm, I look forward to continuing this effort in close collaboration with our key partners, including the Government of Switzerland. The goal is to help even more farmers from other risk-exposed areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina become more resilient – both socially and economically – to the effects of disasters and climate change through improved awareness of evidence-based good practices in agriculture. Ultimately, this will guide farmers and their families toward a more prosperous and sustainable future.

8. Decent work and economic growth, 12. Responsible consumption and production, 13. Climate action