Prizren, Kosovo (IOCC) Growing vegetables or raising cattle high up in the mountains near Prizren is an ongoing struggle for the people who call this region of southern Kosovo home, forcing them to seek supplemental sources of income. The dense forests of southern Kosovo are a gourmet's delight, filled with a bounty of high-quality woodland mushrooms, wild strawberries, blueberries and mountain herbs. These sought after foods, collected by mountain villagers almost year round, provide a much needed source of income for poorer families within the area. IOCC Serbia and Montenegro Program Manager, Nenad Prelevic, says that those earnings are limited because the current system is fragmented, with each mountain villager's home doubling as an impromptu market where people and local traders come to buy herbal teas, mushrooms and forest fruits. "By selling their products together instead of dealing individually, a group of farmers could attract larger buyers and negotiate better prices," says Prelevic. "If we can advance their knowledge in negotiating, product marketing and selling they would realize the joint benefits and significant increase in what they could earn."
Building on many years of experience with agriculture and rural development programs, IOCC in cooperation with professors from the University of Maryland and AGROLINK, a local independent network of agricultural consultants, launched a program to elevate this patchwork of approximately 300 independent producers into an organized agricultural cooperative to enhance the ability of rural families to increase household income in isolated areas of Kosovo.
Working with local agricultural partners, IOCC provided technical and financial support for remodeling a vacant village storefront into a food collection and storage center, and equipping it with the tools needed to sell the woodland products in bulk. Beneficiaries were introduced to the importance of elevating the large scale buyer's image of rural food products by setting product quality and safety standards, sorting products according to those standards, and parceling them into attractive packaging with informative labels. As this cooperative effort progresses and proves its ability to improve the earning capacity of the participating farmers, the hope is that the model will be duplicated by other communities in the region seeking to improve their economic situation.
The program is an integral part of the overall IOCC "Regional Agriculture Development Program" in Northern Montenegro and Western Kosovo. During 2010, the program was launched with the establishment of an Agriculture Business Incubator (ABI) in Albania.
ABIs are intended to provide the agricultural sector the advanced knowledge needed to capitalize on opportunities and to strengthen the spirit of cooperation in order to build a better future for all families in the region.
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