EU project helps Belarusians who lost jobs due to pandemic become eco-farmers

Coming out of nowhere, the coronavirus pandemic has swept away many jobs in the restaurant, tourism, construction, and international transport businesses. Yet, not everyone who found themselves unemployed was not afraid of change. A project called "Local support for economic development in Belarus" has provided these individuals with the opportunity to learn something new and find themselves a job.

“Local support of economic development in Belarus" is supported by the European Union as part of its EU4Business Initiative and being implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Economy of Belarus.

At the end of 2019, a support center for agro ecological enterprises was set up in Berezovsky District in Brest Oblast. This initiative by the Vysokovskiy Ecological and Ethnographic Center has helped seven individuals who lost their jobs during the pandemic start a new business.

Canadian blackberries and viburnum

Before the pandemic, Sergei Strok worked for a construction company in Russia. When the borders closed and business stopped, this adventurous resident of Bereza did not lose heart but launched an agro-ecological business in his hometown. Sergei says that he has loved digging in the ground ever since he was a child living in the countryside in a big family—five siblings. When the opportunity to do something that he enjoyed presented itself, Sergei planted 300 Canadian blackberry bushes in his garden.

The Nikolaychuk family from Beloozersk sold household appliances before the COVID-19 pandemic—but they took the situation in stride. When the flow of customers dried up and supplies stopped, Andrey and Lyudmila decided to start afresh. The couple is convinced that they can build a farming business even on a tiny piece of land. They planted 25 bushes of medicinal viburnum, and have plans to harvest and sell pumpkin seeds and rosehips.

Support at all levels: From seeds to sales

Assistance under the initiative can be granted to anyone, from teenagers and large families to retirees and people with disabilities. There are two main criteria: the recipient must be willing to engage in an agro-ecological business and they must have some land suitable for farming in the Berezovsky District. Start-uppers can leave the rest to the coordinators of the initiative. The Center offers a series of workshops on farming technologies, principles of sustainable plant cultivation, sales and financial literacy. To date, more than 60 individuals have attended such workshops. After the training, the newly-minted farmers receive seeds and seedlings, and after harvesting they get assistance in processing and selling products.

“We want to establish a recognizable brand of eco-friendly products so that residents feel proud of their area and contribute to the development of a green economy,” says project coordinator Galina Yaroshchuk. “At any time, even if there’s a pandemic and quarantine, people should continue to take steps to reach their goals every day.”

Providing support to help develop businesses in the regions is one of the objectives of this project in Belarus. Over the past year, 11 innovative proposals have received financial support, including business support centers, technology parks, mobilizers, and accelerators. Now they are busy making their plans come true.