True Value

March 22, 2021

Photo: Dejan and with grandmothe Desanka, collecting water to drink from the well. Photo: Sinisa Nenadic/UNDP BiH.

Taking action to improve water security, farmers in Bosnia and Herzegovina manage water as a precious resource

With the first signs of spring, the Košpić family has their hands full packing tonnes of potatoes they harvested last autumn on their farm in the village of Mrčevci, situated in the northwest of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Their potato harvest is just a part of the value their land and hard work generates.

The household and farm are led by 50-year-old farmer Miloš Košpić, who in the past two decades has been developing the family farm around the house and land that he inherited from his father.

For Miloš and his wife Slađana, their two sons and a daughter, as well as his aged mother, everyone has a key role on the farm, including animal husbandry in addition to vegetable crops.

“This household has run here for about a hundred years”, he says, explaining that his father was not interested in large-scale farming, so it fell to him to spearhead the infrastructure investments needed to boost productivity. First among these infrastructure priorities was securing enough water.

Photo: Miloš Košpić and his son Dejan. Photo: Sinisa Nenadic/UNDP BiH.

Things are changing

Farmers in BiH are already facing the negative consequences of climate change, manifested via floods, droughts, erosion, landslides, storms, and hail. While there is awareness of the urgency of the water sector challenges, farmers know intimately that we must accelerate action to transform water security.

A Bright Future

Despite these challenges, Miloš sees a bright future. For 17-year-old Dejan, Miloš’s youngest son who recently embarked on a course of study at a Banja Luka technical high school, following in his father’s footsteps via agriculture is increasingly appealing.

In a country blessed with water like BiH, Miloš Košpić sees a bright future. Part of realising this dream depends on water.

Valuing Water, Enabling Change

For BiH, a UNDP-implemented, Green Climate Fund-financed project, Advancing the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process for medium-term investment planning in climate sensitive sectors, recognises the importance of water. Knowing that the management of water resources impacts all aspects of society, the project is advancing adaptation planning with a focus on the most vulnerable sectors.

Only with proper climate change adaptation planning and budgeting can these sectors expect systematic, suitable, and long-term support from both local institutions and donors.

When the well runs dry

For Miloš and his family, the old well that provided the household with water was replaced in the 1970s by a system of tanks and cisterns. Beginning in 2000 – when the development of the farm intensified – this system became insufficient. “This is when I decided to dig deeper and make wells.”

Miloš’s farm, in the village of Mrčevci, is located near the city of Banja Luka, through which the Vrbas River runs. But being connected to an urban utility system can be cost-prohibitive for farmers like Miloš, whose lands lie a mere 5-7 metres above rich aquifers.

“Wherever you drill around here, there is water… So, there are plenty of wells around here,” he explains, adding that he has five such well systems developed for watering the plants on his farm.

What lies beneath

To grow potatoes, onions, cabbage and watermelon, the Košpićs need a robust irrigation system, and the only way to do so effectively entailed transitioning to groundwater, which is a plentiful resource in this region encircled with rivers.

Achieving climate resilience requires building up vulnerable farmers by developing their skills and expertise in water management. A resilient farm can cope effectively with climate shocks, while also increasing production in smart, economically efficient ways.

#1 Water

Being a farmer is hard work and “an expensive sport”. Miloš explains that his farm is one of only two commercially registered farms from his village of about 200 households, and he knows that to sustain this production his farm depends on water.

“In agriculture – water is number one. You can pick any vegetable to grow, you can put any amount of fertiliser, but if you don’t have water – if you can’t water the crop so it grows – then it is all in vain.”

Photo: Vaso Lepir on his farm. Photo: Sinisa Nenadic/UNDP BiH.

Water is a linchpin

Building resilience depends not solely on farmers’ management of resources, but also on how well local, national, and global institutions support farmers.

In the face of a changing climate, National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) are central to proactively adapting, and managing water is an urgent priority. Water is a critical for the climate, environment, and resilience agenda. Promoting ambitious climate action across the world, NAPs also ensure that countries are able to support their citizens.

Precious resource, prescient guidance

Within BiH’s NAP, institutions have defined priority adaptation actions that include work to improve water management to increase resilience to floods and droughts. Activities also include planting new drought and flood tolerant species, cultivars, and hybrids; introducing improved cultivation technology; and the development of more efficient irrigation systems. Additional efforts to promote afforestation with indigenous and fast-growing species are already underway.

The NAP includes specific provisions to enhance the capacity of public health institutes and emergency services, and to establish effective statistical monitoring of climate change-related events. For additional protection against extreme weather events, the NAP also includes work to develop a co-ordinated early warning system, including an anti-hail protection system. These efforts will protect farmers, as will the adoption of new technical solutions - including Environment Based Solutions – to ensure flood, erosion, and torrent protection for settlements and cities.

The NAP also includes plans to reduce water losses in water supply systems, and work to construct reservoirs for multipurpose uses, including redistribution of water flow, flood protection, irrigation, and hydropower.

An ambitious plan, ambitious partnerships

To make this work possible, key governmental institutions are involved in the NAP process. In particular, the Ministry of Spatial Planning, Civil Engineering, and Ecology of Republika Srpska as the country’s UNFCCC and GCF focal point, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of BiH as a state-level ministry in charge of coordination of climate change adaptation activities throughout the country, and the Federal Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

The investment necessary for implementation of this ambitious plan will reach ≈USD$5bn from 2021 to 2025. BiH is already investing in numerous climate change adaptation measures using domestic resources, but implementation of this plan requires and benefits from strong international assistance.

Harnessing the wild waters

Vaso Lepir spent his life by the river of Vrbas in northwest BiH. For the past 76 years he has seen all of its moods and seasons, enjoying it at its best, and suffering when it was at its worst. He has experienced first-hand how imperative it is to have strong leadership in managing water.

In 2014 when a large part of the country was hit by devastating floods, the Bosna, Vrbas, and Sava rivers broke free of their banks and left thousands homeless.

Remembering waist-deep water in his house, and the destruction it wrought with its 20 cm of residual mud that took months to clear out, Vaso notes that he would not be able to fight that battle a second time. Instead, he put all his strength into building protections against future river incursions.

It took Vaso and his wife Marija three years to put things back to normal and build a strong embankment. Their efforts were bolstered by assistance from local authorities. His household facilities and yard are now surrounded by a berm over a metre-high.

“We are protected now. It is good by the river, but like this, when you are protected there aren’t any problems. However, there is a danger it all gets carried away if it is not protected.”

Water from our mother

From his parents’ old house with one well, Miloš developed the family farm into a viable livelihood, made possible because of their key infrastructure investments in irrigation.

“I am grateful to nature and I treat it well. It is sad to see how other people are treating nature… not watering the crops. We have one mother who gave us birth and our other mother is the nature.”

To change the future of water, we must rethink how to understand, value, and manage water as a precious resource. Miloš and Vaso are good examples of how each of us can appreciate the true value of water and take action to protect it.

Story by Elvira Jukic-Mujkic, Ajla Mostarac, Sladjana Bundalo, and Andrea Egan / Photos: Sinisa Nenadic/UNDP BiH