Could hemp production save humanity?

Organic farmers in Slavonia"Hemp is our future"

"These are our fields, up to the forest over there. And the hemp field here is the largest: 42 hectares." The plants are still small and tender. One almost fears that the heavy rain could wash them away.

Mario Falamić crouches down. He is blond and plump. His brother Mladen stands next to him: thin and dark-haired. Only when they smile do the two look a little alike. "We learned the same thing. We both went to business and business school - here in Donji Miholjac and Osijek."

Essential oils, salad oil and tea are made from the flowers, leaves and seeds of the cannabis plants in our own factory. Today, Mladen and Mario sell their products to the Netherlands, Germany and Austria - and to the Croatian branches of a German drugstore chain.

Business is just getting started. Soy was still growing here until five years ago. Then Mladen, the older of the two, completely changed the product range. And this is how it came about: "Until 2013, we produced for the own brands of the large German and Austrian retail chains for their locations here in Croatia."

Eco pioneers in their area

Mladen's parents founded the company in 1989 and called it Fami: Fa for Falamić and mi for Mirko and Mirjana. Since then, the company has grown, even during the war in the 1990s. Mirko and Mirjana bought more land and built a food laboratory, warehouse and factory - a few minutes' drive from their fields.

And they started to switch to organic - 15 years ago. They were the area's eco pioneers. Mario says goodbye - the next day he wants to produce the first animal feed for his newly founded Canibis brand: Because hemp is also good for four-legged friends.

This article is part of the five-part series of reports "Slavonia in Croatia - Not just the hinterland".

Mladen goes up the stairs. Everything upstairs in the office is blue. Father's desk and chair, who retired earlier this year. Mladen's place is further back in the room, at the pale blue conference table on a massive synthetic leather armchair.

"In spice mixes and soft drinks we had the second largest market share after Podravka and Coca Cola, we were the largest company here in the region. That was the mistake. If you could turn the clock back, we wouldn't do it again like this." Above him the yellow Fami logo with splendidly spread wings - pasty painted on the blue wall.

Everything changed when I joined the EU

"Imagine, you work 25 years, you expand, everything is going well. And then the nightmare. The orders of the supermarket chains fell. On and on, just so that they didn't break the contracts. And their shelves were still full. We produced for their own brands, which means: From the outside everything looked the same as always, but the content came from somewhere else. "

That was six years ago. Croatia became a member of the EU on July 1, 2013 - five months later the contracts with the retail chains expired.

"After joining, there were no more customs barriers. And so they could simply replace us: with suppliers from the old EU countries. The trade relations there have a longer tradition - or the chains have shares in the supplier companies and therefore prefer to use them back."

Suddenly the employees at Fami had nothing more to do. After the initial shock, the Falamićs looked for new customers and found them in Russia. But then came the Crimean crisis and the ruble fell into the abyss.

"We had to fire most of the employees. That was the worst time of our life. Our employees were great. We knew them, we knew about their marital problems, financial needs and health problems. They were more friends than employees."

"You can do pretty much anything with hemp"

In this situation, Mladen's father was diagnosed with colon cancer. The family was now simultaneously looking for therapies and new concepts for the business. In doing so, she discovered: hemp. Mirko Falamić started inhaling cannabis with a high content of active ingredients and quickly recovered after his bowel surgery.

At the same time his son Mladen founded a new company: "Green Life. Harvested and made in Croatia". An eco-brand with an organic certificate, specializing in products made from industrial hemp - this only contains small amounts of active ingredients. "We still have to be careful here, in Croatia it is not really allowed to work with active ingredient proportions above 0.2 percent."

A new law on medicinal hemp has just been passed in Croatia - and the Falamićs would like to produce cannabis as a medicine. But it is still completely unclear who is allowed to grow medicinal hemp and which products are approved at all. "We discovered hemp as a plant that thrives here and is healthy: as a food, as a medicine, as a building material - you can do pretty much anything with it. I think hemp is our future".

And if it works: also for the 30 remaining employees. Most of the terminated employees now live in Ireland or Germany, says Mladen.

Mixed feelings about the EU

"Of course, we see the EU through the lens of our experience: Of course, it's good that we could travel more easily. But on the other hand, it wasn't in the Schengen area yet, so not much has changed. Except that we are now importing food and export well-trained workers. After joining, many businesses here closed down and entire families emigrated. "

It is difficult to estimate how many people have left because many move away without giving up their place of residence. One thing is certain, says Mladen: If he were to expand and needed 20 new employees - he would not find them.

A production by Deutschlandfunk 2019