Supporting small rural initiatives fosters entrepreneurial and green innovations and powers human development in Belarus’ regions.
From a Small Entrepreneurial Start-Up to the Local Driver of Innovative Growth
June 16, 2023
The rural districts in Belarus have a strong human potential for local socio-economic growth and development. Local communities leverage innovation and embrace new green technologies to stimulate entrepreneurial drive and to improve the lives of people and preserve nature. With the support of the GEF Small Grants Program (SGP) / United Nations Development Program (UNDP) enterprising women from Krasnopolye District, Mogilev Region, created in 2018 the regional cheese brand "Dairy Kufarek” (Cheese Storage Chest) and opened in the town of Gory a cheese Center and a workshop. Even though the GEF SGP/UNDP support has ended in 2020, the Center continues to work and develop. In just over three years, the small dairy initiative has become a point of the local growth and innovation, rallying farmers from three neighboring districts to work together on innovative and green solutions.
In June 2023, UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus Alexandra Solovieva, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Armen Martirosyan, the representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, UNDP and the GEF SGP/UNDP initiatives met in Gory with the Krasnopolye district authorities and the initiative group of the GEF SGP/UNDP project "Creation of Energy Efficient Building Model for Marketing and Cheese Making Center "Dairy Kufarek" of women cooperative "Gorskaya Treasury" to discuss the progress, spotlight on opportunities and identify the ways to make the business sustainable.
"Small entrepreneurial initiatives aim at showcasing development opportunities and consolidation of initial success. They create a model that needs further scaling up, ensuring sustainability and creating prerequisites for innovative rural development".Alexandra Solovieva, UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus.
The story of the cheese initiative began when a group of enterprising women from a local women-led cooperative "Gorsky Kufarek", being inspired by the experience and success of a cheesemaking center in the neighboring Slavgorod District, decided to create and develop their own diary brand "Dairy Kufarek". The brand had a mission to support local small-scale cheesemakers and dairy farmers who wanted to diversify, increase profitability, and sustain their dairy and cheese making businesses. Many farmers joined the cooperative since the production of cheese is a value-added diary business and is more profitable than selling raw milk. Today the cooperative is a tight-knit entrepreneurial community made up of more than 20 cheesemakers and dairy farmers from Cherikov, Slavgorod and Krasnopolye districts.
The initiative group of the "Gorskaya Treasury" purchased special equipment for the production and storage of cheese. However, the equipment alone was not enough. The cheesemakers needed a room where they could meet, share experiences, and use the equipment.
The help came from the SGP GEF/UNDP, which, in partnership with the local executive authorities and NGOs, helped to set up the Center and equip a cheesemaking workshop where farmers from all over the district can bring their milk and make cheese.
There is no shortage of choices in the workshop’s assortment. Using locally-sourced diary ingredients the cheesemakers produce international cheese varieties, such as Buratto, Mozzarella, Cacciotta, Suluguni, Adygei cheese alongside local artesian kinds of gourmet cheese.
Apart from developing the entrepreneurial component, the Center was redefining the way the cheese is made by having the production process solar driven.
The GEF SGP/UNDP helped to purchase and install solar panels on the workshop’s roof to convert solar energy into electrical all year round. Green energy is used for operating equipment for cheese production, refrigeration, and aging. The fact that the “Dairy Kufarek” is carbon neutral increases the marketing appeal of the brand and strengthens the competitiveness of the products.
Parallel to reducing energy costs and increasing the brand’s appeal, green energy helps to reduce the anthropogenic impact on nature through cutting CO2 emissions.
Education is key for ensuring sustainability and for driving local entrepreneurial initiative. Every year the Center organizes more than 20 master classes in the production of different varieties of cheese. As a result, more than 50 local people, mostly women, began their own cheesemaking business.
Additionally to the trainings, the cooperative regularly holds seminars for cheesemakers from other districts to exchange experiences and practices.
The initiative’s brand strategy aims at strengthening the ability of the cooperative to embrace technology and stay competitive. However, while focused mainly on cheese production and education, “Dairy Kufarek" has a solid business plan for future growth and looks forward to opening a bakery and a tourist center.
The District Executive Committee, the Council of Deputies, village councils and communal organizations of Krasnopolye district fully support the initiative. In particular, the local authorities provided co-financing for repair works in the buildings of the Center and the workshop; helped to improve the surrounding area, and regularly help with the promotion of cheese products at the district, regional and the national markets.
During the visit the management and the representatives of UNDP, the Ministry of Environment, GEF SGP/UNDP, local authorities, and local entrepreneurs agreed to continue scaling up the best practices. UNDP also offered to use UNDP-developed methods and guidelines to strengthen the capacity of grantees and local authorities to support the sustainable development of the cooperative, as well as other local socio-economic initiatives in the district.
"Dairy Kufarek" started as a passion project of a group of self-taught women cheesemakers but quickly kickstarted a journey that led to the growing entrepreneurial community with a strong and far-reaching business vision. Also, the initiative is an excellent example of how small and targeted support from the GEF SGP/UNDP has become the launch pad for the development of sustainable businesses where local knowledge initiative, and innovation work in a way that balances community development with nature.
From 2014 to 2022, 11 initiatives totaling US$459,526 were implemented as part of this GEF SGP/UNDP and Krasnopolye District partnership.
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