A freshly paved side road in south Kosovo leads to the newly inaugurated production premises of one of the country’s strongest brands: Kooperativa Bujqësore Krusha - the Agricultural Cooperative Krusha. It started in 2005, when Fahrije Hoti established an association for the war widows of her village, to help one another rebuild their lives. They started with what they knew best and what they had done all their lives: make ajvar – a red pepper paste, a staple ingredient of Kosovo’s traditional cuisine – and pickled vegetables.
In 2010, Fahrije registered the agricultural cooperative as a business and began production in larger quantities, primarily for the export market. The drawing of a woman in traditional attire holding red peppers is the logo representing everything that this cooperative stands for.
Initially, Fahrije managed the production from smaller premises, which had been upgraded with funding from the Swiss international cooperation. As demand grew, larger and more modern facilities were needed. In 2021, Fahrije opened the new factory built with funds from the EU and the support of volunteering organisations. The factory has excellent working conditions for over 75 women involved in production and the operations team.
“Everything I have, I have thanks to my work at the cooperative. Not just me but all of the women who first started to work here,” says Fahrije.
“We don’t need funds or assistance. We need work,” says the actress-Fahrije. Real-life Fahrije affirms it:
Since 2015, Swisscontact has provided varied support to KB Krusha through the Promoting Private Sector Employment (PPSE) project in Kosovo. Through a Kosovo firm engaged by the project, support was provided to the cooperative to improve their processes, products, and services. An expert deployed through Swisscontact’s Senior Expert Contact programme worked with Fahrije to improve their business plan, brand image, and market position. Another expert contributed to improving product durability.
In 2020, KB Krusha was part of the contract farming intervention of PPSE, through which its contracted farmers were subsidised with 250,000 vegetable seedlings and received counselling services. “It was a success as farmers met the contracted delivery quantity, and even had a surplus,” says Fahrije. Most recently, in cooperation with Swisscontact, KB Krusha acquired much-needed machinery to clean, roast, and peel peppers used for making ajvar.
The recently installed machinery accelerates the process of pepper roasting, peeling, and grinding, and increases the number of peppers processed per hour. “This new line roasts up to 1,500 kg of peppers per hour,” says Fahrije Hoti.
“With increased capacity, we will expand the ajvar season, hire more workers, and contract more farmers for larger quantities of vegetables,” she adds. Roasted peppers in small packaging are a new product to be added to their shelf, all made possible by the new machinery.
“Co-investing in this machinery was worth it. No raw product goes to waste, our capacity has increased, the work is easier and working conditions are better. The difference is like night and day,” says Artan Zenuni, Fahrije’s assistant manager.
In the movie, ajvar-makers say, “We have made ajvar our entire lives. We know how to do it better than anyone.” Tailored and timely support provided to the cooperative has made all the difference to them – it expedited growth and demonstrated how Fahrije and her cooperative members are not victims of circumstances, but agents of change.
“They are saying that if your husband was alive he’d be ashamed of you,” says a fellow widow actress in the movie. Real-life Fahrije had to face worse prejudice and backlash from the community – especially men – when she first started to sell ajvar in street fairs and to small markets. The pressure affected her daughter, then a pre-teen, who one day returned from school angry and asked her mother to stop her business activity, as people were gossiping about them.
“Of course, I continued the work – if not for me alone, for all the widows who needed jobs, and their children, and for our sanity. Here we are sixteen years later. The same farmers who laughed at our work, now sell their vegetables to KB Krusha every year. Some of their wives work here permanently, others once they are done with the vegetable cultivation and pickling in their own homes”, says Fahrije. With the new investments, the work season is expected to extend to 11 months a year for all employees.
She is very proud of this change that has happened within the community and awed at the impact that the story of the women from the village Krusha e Madhe has achieved on an international scale.
“You can’t do this all on your own. Didn’t you ask for help? We are not doing this just for you but for ourselves. For all of us”, say the film actress widows. Fahrije agrees. For her, the most important impact of her enterprise was that it gave devastated women a place to be together, share their burden, and rebuild their lives.
Sadbere Hoti is among the first women who started to work for KB Krusha, in 2008. A war widow and mother to a daughter, this was her first ever job outside of home.
The impressive progress of KB Krusha in the last 16 years is a powerful example of how women’s economic empowerment – regardless of the circumstances – is the key to ending poverty for the communities and the society at large, and for making them more equal and inclusive for everyone.
Promoting Private Sector Employment is a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
Senior Expert Contact (SEC) is part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, which is co-financed by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA).