the presentation of the cross-border cooperation project between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Eco-tourism in the cross-border area between Serbia and BiH: Birdwatching in the cross-border area,” took place on Monday, September 25th, at the Sustainable Development Courtyard in Bogatić. This event served as an opportunity for representatives of interested groups in the cross-border region to get acquainted and connect.

The project’s implementation spans two years, with a total budget of €209,847.86. The initial project activities involve the design of new tourist products, specifically the development of birdwatching routes in two new destinations. Early next year, concrete training sessions will commence for birdwatching guides, as well as for the construction of birdhouses and bird feed. The project also aims to economically empower at least thirty individuals from socially vulnerable groups upon its completion. They will be engaged in the production of birdhouses and bird feed.

Currently, according to data from the National Employment Service, there are 584 individuals with disabilities registered in the Mačva District who are currently unemployed. These are people whose opportunities are limited, but they all have an equal chance to contribute to the community and achieve personal benefits through employment. In collaboration with the National Employment Service, they will be selected and employed after receiving the necessary training. What’s most important is their inclusion. Over the past few years, significant efforts have been made to socialize individuals from socially vulnerable groups, to have them accepted in society, and to enable them to live with a sense of importance and usefulness, which they certainly are, emphasized Miroljub Nikolić, the director of Caritas Šabac.

Although birdwatching is still relatively underrepresented in our region, it is not a novelty in modern tourism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to the charms of nature, leading tourism organizations to develop their own nature-based tourism offerings.

The hobby of birdwatching, also known as “Birdwatching,” has become so popular worldwide that numerous destinations have included it as a unique tourism product in their core offerings. Over the skies of Mačva and Tuzla Canton, a diverse array of bird species can be observed, and given the proximity to protected areas and nature reserves, some rare species can also be spotted. This presents a significant opportunity for the tourism industry of the Bogatić municipality and the entire Mačva District, as well as for cross-border partners from Tuzla Canton.

The project presentation and networking event were attended by event organizers, project partners, representatives of local authorities, civil society, educational institutions, social welfare organizations, entrepreneurs, farmers, social entrepreneurs, and representatives of companies specializing in the professional rehabilitation and employment of persons with disabilities, as well as individuals with disabilities themselves.

In his welcoming speech, the Mayor of Bogatić expressed his satisfaction that the European Union is investing in a region that is primarily agricultural but stressed that this should not overshadow other potentials.

“Considering the geothermal springs, rich cultural and historical heritage, and the increasing number of those who see opportunities in this region for the development of tourism and other economic and tourist potentials, we have provided moral support for this project, as well as for visitors coming to our region to offer another attraction. Our intention is to make our place more accessible to foreign tourists, and this is certainly a good opportunity for that. On the other hand, we have had several opportunities to see that the vision of these people who are leading this project yields good results, so we have no doubt that the benefits will be multiple this time. We will have another tourist product, and the number of unemployed persons with disabilities will decrease. We are here to support all projects that are for the benefit of Bogatić, especially those that do not require investments from the local budget,” emphasized Milan Damnjanović, the Mayor of the Bogatić Municipality.

The specific objective of this project is to increase the contribution of tourism to the socio-economic development of the program area, in this case, the Lower Podrinje, which is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and the protected landscape of Konjuh in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ivana Pajić from the Society for the Protection and Study of Birds of Serbia presented the project to the attendees, while her colleague Sandra Jovanović gave a presentation on the importance of biodiversity for local development. Tanja Bijedić from the Red Cross of Tuzla Canton spoke about the contribution of education to the tourism and social welfare sector. Snežana Lozanović from Caritas Šabac presented on the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workforce. Following these presentations, attendees had the opportunity to view products and learn about the services provided by entrepreneurs primarily operating on the principles of social entrepreneurship.