Afërdita Murati, 50, is proud of her line of fresh berry juices and jams, and rightfully so. What started a few years back with a jar of raspberry jam for her children and 10 litres of freshly, hand-squeezed aronia berry juice is now a business selling a growing list of products to over 500 stores around the country.
A chemical lab technician by formal education, earlier in life Afërdita did not have an opportunity to put her knowledge or traditional know-how of working with fruits and vegetables to use as she was busy raising three children and making a new life in Croatia, to where she and her husband, Shaip, had immigrated.
“Afërdita is a role model of emancipation; she has helped many women to engage in gainful activities,” says her husband Shaip, who works for the family business.
After the war in Kosovo, the family decided to return to their home village Llapashticë some 35 km from the country’s capital Prishtina. Now, in 2019, a serene and postcard-perfect village, Afërdita says they had to build everything from scratch when they returned in 2001: “We found everything burned, so we decided to re-build our family home”. It took them two years to move from a one-room dwelling for everyone into the new house.
In 2014, Afërdita learned that raspberry cultivation was becoming a thing in Kosovo, so she was quick to get involved. One year later with 4 ha of land used, the yield was high. Finding a market for the quantity did not prove easy due to many farmers producing the same crop.
Using the surplus of raspberry production and recalling the tradition passed on by other women, Afërdita invented a simple jam recipe. At the time, she went to a street fair for homemade products by women and sold 10 jars in one day. Then, every day over the next three months, she set up a stand in a large shopping mall in Prishtina where she sold her homemade jam and fresh raspberries. She began to participate in every food fair she could.
“I would never achieve anything without networking. It is the missing ingredient on top of the idea and willingness if you want to achieve your vision,” is Afërdita’s word of advice to any woman entrepreneur.
Apart from the business, Afërdita established an NGO to foster networking between women in the region and give them skills to earn a living.
In 2017, Afërdita expanded into the cultivation of aronia berry. When this crop too proved difficult to sell, she again displayed the characteristic resilience of so many women like her, who draw on their will to improve life and come up with solutions despite harsh circumstances and difficult times. Her hands as her tools, a simple blender and clean gauze, she made fresh natural aronia juice that sells for €15 a litre. As the client list grew, she hired her family and other women from the village to keep up with the demand.
With the support of the municipal authorities and donors, such as the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Afërdita registered her business, bought the first pieces of equipment and built the production facilities. Through Swisscontact’s support, she purchased an automatic bottle-filling and capping machine. “It took 4 people to work a full day to fill and cap 500 bottles. With this machine, we complete the process in less than 30 minutes,” says a happy Afërdita with the efficiency of the process that translated into more profit.
According to Afërdita, donor support, in particular for women-owned businesses, is the key. Through the collaboration with Swisscontact, she will develop the new brand for her growing list of products, patent her recipes and do a proper marketing plan. Her ultimate goal is to maintain the unique artisanal character of products that differentiates them and begin to export.
Women account for almost 50% of the Kosovo population of 1,78 million but only 4.9% of them are agriculture landowners. Compared to men, rural women in Kosovo are more involved in unpaid housework and care for family members, on top of unpaid agriculture work. Overall, it is estimated that 13.3% of women in Kosovo are employed.
Swisscontact’s Kosovo project Promoting Private Sector Employment (PPSE) works in the food and natural ingredients sector. One of the project result indicators is increased women inclusion throughout the value chain. In 2018, all activities in this sector have generated some 357 full time work opportunities, of which 45% for women, and some 1,580 additionally gainful employment opportunities for people, of which 42% for women.
Contracted farming is one of the areas that generated the most employment and sales results. Donika Skeli, 43, is one of the women farmers contracted by PPSE’s partner, the collection centre Agrocelina, to grow cucumbers.
As the owner of a hair salon in a small town in central Kosovo, Donika made a good living for her family of four. However, her parents and brother back in her home village faced tough times due to unemployment. Having the full support of her husband and two daughters, Donika put her life as a hairdresser on hold and returned to being a full time farmer.
Awarded a start-up grant from the Ministry of Agriculture, she set up a greenhouse on her family’s land, signed a contract with Agrocelina and employed both her brothers and her father. The collection centre provides her with seedlings and purchases the entire final produce. This is part of the system established with PPSE support.
“I learned farming as a young girl, from my mother; we were always farmers. I am happy to use that knowledge again, this time to help my younger brothers and their families earn a living in their own land, so they do not have to depend on outside employment. The look of happiness in my mother’s face and knowing my family is doing well is all the reward I want,” says Donika.
The stories of Afërdita and Donika, like other similar stories from around the world, stand testimony to the key roles that rural women play in their families and communities; they show how everyone benefits when women are given equal opportunities and access to resources.
These stories are dedicated to rural women everywhere on occasion of the International Day of Rural Women that is marked every 15th October: https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/9/announcer-day-of-rural-women-2019
The project Promoting Private Sector Employment (PPSE) is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by Swisscontact.