Creating Opportunities for Macedonian Hazelnut Growers to Export on the Swiss Market

More than forty hazelnut growers were part of two interactive training sessions and on-field visits in Struga and Tetovo for acquiring know-how on Bio Suisse hazelnut production. The knowledge on operating according to Bio Suisse standard brings growers a step closer to becoming future suppliers for the Swiss supermarket chain Coop. The valuable insights gained from the experienced expert from the Swiss Institute for Organic Production FiBl – Nicholas Lefebre demonstrated what it takes to acquire Bio Suisse certification.

I believe that many hazelnut growers in North Macedonia have made a step towards organic production, in accordance with the European organic regulation. The difference between organic and Bio Suisse certification is very small, thus growers here don’t have to alter their practices much to comply with the Bio Suisse standard and obtain the needed certification.” – says Lefebre.

The two training sessions were organized by the Association of Hazelnut Growers “Eko Leshnik” and supported by the Increasing Market Employability Programme (IME). Back in 2020, IME started the program with eleven farmers from the Association “Eko Leshnik” to acquire Bio Suisse certification and join the suppliers’ network for Coop, who were led by “Nelkoski Organic Food”.

“The support received from the Swiss Increasing Market Employability Programme – IME was crucial as it supported “Eko Leshnik” in the process of promotion and raising awareness of the benefits of production under Bio Suisse standard, and assisting eleven farmers with capacity building and certification, aiming to build a stable network of suppliers of Bio Suisse products for Coop, but also for other international buyers of premium hazelnuts. We need to reach out to more growers; hence we are organizing these trainings.” – adds Boshko Nelkoski, the owner of “Nelkoski Organic Food”.

The first shipment of organic Macedonian hazelnuts to Switzerland was delivered by his company under the brand “Zaum Organic”. Nelkoski yet again accentuates the importance of expanding the number of farmers and creating a solid chain of suppliers who will be producing hazelnuts according to Bio Suisse standard, so that larger quantity of hazelnuts is produced for the needs of Coop.

“As a small supplier, we have endless opportunities to grow. The market size of Coop and the companies that we cooperate with is roughly around 400 t. Currently we supply only 5 t., and our aim is to reach 50 t. in the next three years. This would only be possible if more hazelnut growers understand how to produce in compliance with Bio Suisse and acquire this certificate.” – states Boshko.

The adoption of Bio Suisse standard certification secures sustainable production for the farmers and the environment and at the same time represents a good reputation and image for the agricultural producers and the country. Nicholas Lefebre says that Swiss retailers and buyers are just discovering the potential of North Macedonia which lies in the climate, but also in the still small-scale farming systems. “The latter is very fitting for organic farming due to protecting nature and the environment. In North Macedonia there aren’t very wide fields without borders, landscapes are natural, and there lies a great potential.”

The Association of Hazelnut Growers “Eko Leshnik” has started developing a mobile app for digitalizing the entire process and connecting the farmers. This will in turn make it more attractive for younger farmers to join as well. The mobile app intends to establish a direct contact with all registered hazelnut producers, whereby closely following the production of hazelnuts from the fields, up to the table. In this way, the growers will be able to exchange knowledge, share the problems that they are encountering and receive advise from agronomists, present their offer to buyers and so on. “This digital tool will lead to an improved communication, creating an entire community more like a Bio Suisse village, which is ready to develop the strongest and best product for the Swiss market”. – adds Nelkoski.

The Swiss Increasing Market Employability Programme – IME will continue supporting the adoption of Bio Suisse standard and creation of new market opportunities for hazelnut growers to become suppliers for the Swiss and other export markets.