Raspberry has established itself as a go-to crop for hundreds of smallholder farmers in the Sharr/Šar mountains of south Kosovo. With good soil conditions, favourable climate, and unspoiled nature around, the so-called red gold attracts a decent selling price and provides for many families reliant on agriculture to make a living.
But growing raspberries is not only a commercial activity; it brings about traditional gastronomy, enjoyment of the summer season, and buzz of neighbours gathered in the red-and-green fields. In the mountainous Gora region of Dragash/š, home to a Slavic-speaking, Muslim Gorani community, a social enterprise of over 40 women and men turns raspberries, as well as other local fruits and vegetables, into a range of jams and spreads such as ajvar.
Geographically isolated, the Gora region does not provide for enough jobs in the industry or service sectors, and household agriculture becomes key in making ends meet. In response, the social enterprise ‘Mladi Na Selu’ runs a production unit where local women combine traditional know-how with modern techniques to produce jams and other gastronomy items.
Over the years, Mladi Na Selu improved their production process with new equipment and better facilities, upped the production of raw materials through expanded raspberry fields of its members, and now is investing into branding and marketing of their products. The Austrian Development Cooperation-funded project of UNDP has helped them along the way.
Their hard work in the last several years is now paying off in increased quantity and quality of the raspberry fruits and jams, and higher demand for MNS’s products, bringing much needed income to the community. With over 40kg of berries processed daily, by the end of the harvest season well over a ton of berries will have been turned into around 5,000 jars of tasty “mjedër/malina” jam.
The social enterprise has become a good example in the Gorani community of joining hands to bring forth economic opportunities to remote rural areas.
Enida Tudjari, one of the five women in charge of the jam production, shares that raspberry harvesting and processing represents a new opportunity for Gorani women to engage in business and gain income for their families. She adds that since this is a seasonal, part-time activity, it also provides space for and balance with their house and family obligations.
In Kosovo, over 80% of women are considered inactive in the labour market, with care responsibilities cited as the biggest barrier for having a job or running a business. Such part-time work and other such flexible arrangements allow for balancing out professional aspirations with responsibilities at home, and slowly shifting the traditional division of gender roles present in rural communities for generations.
The red fruit has become a symbol of possibility and hope, especially for the Glloboqicë/Globočica village where Mladi Na Selu is located (yes, put it on your travel bucket list). During neighbourly gatherings during the busiest, but most rewarding time of the year for farmers, such as the raspberry harvest day held at the end of this July, the members of Mladi Na Selu cannot hide the enthusiasm in their faces about the good harvest potential this year.
Compared with other regions in Kosovo with more advanced raspberry cultivation, this is still a relatively new activity in Dragash/Dragaš. However, the commitment of Mladi Na Selu in promoting this new culture has made other farmers of this region aware of the economic benefits and the potential of this fruit.
The increased price of raspberry this year has also increased the motivation of cultivators to further expand their fields, and the good quality of fruit ranks the members of Mladi Na Selu among the top producers in Dragash/Dragaš Municipality.
Since 2014, the INTERDEV project works with smallholder farmers and rural microenterprises in rural municipalities of Dragash/š, Shtërpcë/Štrpce, and, in its second phase from 2017, also in Viti/Vitina to improve business performance and bring about jobs and increased income for local residents, with a strong focus on women and individuals at risk of being left behind. The project is financed by the Austrian Development Cooperation and implemented by UNDP.