In rural Montenegro, women gather to share their successes

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In rural Montenegro, women gather to share their successes

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“I used to work in a cheese factory and it was good while it lasted,” says Elvira Mulić, a 44-year-old dairy farmer from Orahovac village in north-eastern Montenegro. “But owning a business – that’s the real thing. Investing in your knowledge and production pays off.”

It’s 15 October, the International Day of Rural Women. Elvira is one of 13 women who have gathered in the municipality of Petnjica for a study visit, under the auspices of the IFAD-funded RCTP project. During the visit, the women have the opportunity to share their experiences and the challenges they face as women in farming; take classes in various agricultural production techniques and business skills; and visit a fair showcasing local products and crafts.

The northern region of Montenegro that Elvira and the others hail from is largely dependent on agriculture, but productivity is low and increasingly impacted by climate change. As the region gradually falls behind the more prosperous southern belt, more and more young people are leaving to seek work elsewhere.

The Government of Montenegro, in partnership with IFAD, is implementing RCTP to help the region’s farmers become more economically competitive and resilient to the impacts of climate change. The project aims to encourage high-quality production that both keeps the natural environment in near-pristine conditions and allows farmers to achieve greater returns.

In all it does, RCTP seeks to empower the region’s women. Gender-transformative approaches are woven throughout its activities, ensuring that the rural women who participate in the project can make money of their own, reduce their household workloads, and make their voices heard in home and community decision-making. Currently, about 8,000 women are participating in RCTP, comprising 38 per cent of all participants – exceeding the project’s initial target of 30 per cent.

In fact, the milk from her five cows is no longer sufficient to meet demand, and she now plans to buy milk from her neighbours – thus spreading the economic benefits and growing her business further.For Elvira, RCTP came at a crucial time. In 2020, the project helped her construct her cheese-making facility, procure materials, and expand her production. “My cheese is now on tables outside this region of ours,” she says proudly.

Although Elvira’s husband and two sons also work on the farm, she is the one who initiated the family business and she is the key decision-maker. “We share the work, but I'm a little in charge here,” she admits.

Sabaheta Novalić, meanwhile, has worked for many years to improve the circumstances of small-scale producers in her home region. RCTP helped her build a pond on her farm – increasingly a necessity for the region’s farmers, as water shortages during the summer months become ever more frequent. The 51-year-old from Petnjica is now a field contact person for RCTP, drawing on her extensive local network to connect producers to the project and provide peer education. She is a strong believer in farmers coming together to solve problems and achieve goals. She’s also one of the organizers of the agricultural fair.

“With the arrival of the project in Petnjica, people have started to gather again and talk about common needs and problems,” Sabaheta says. “When people see that there is someone to support them, they see and feel that they are not alone, and it motivates them to continue.”

Melida Adrović, another participant, agrees. Unlike many of her peers, the 29-year-old returned to Petnjica after completing college. She found a job with the municipality and also raises calves for sale. She got her first six calves with assistance from RCTP.

Melida believes that there is a bright future for young people in Petnjica – they just need to look for it and believe in it. As a younger farmer herself, she believes in investing in and empowering local youth, something she frequently talks about with other RCTP participants.

And, like Sabaheta, she thinks that working and learning together is key. She feels that activities geared towards women entrepreneurs – like the study visit they’re taking part in, along with other offerings like women-only classes – can help foster a sense of confidence.

In a society where women still face many disadvantages, women like Melida, Sabaheta and Elvira have drawn on support from RCTP to empower themselves economically and within their communities. All three are keen to work with others, to learn and teach and to build a strong economic landscape that benefits women and youth. As Melida says, “We need to talk openly, to help each other and share our acquired knowledge to help everyone improve.”


Learn more about IFAD’s work in Montenegro.