Establishing Family Farming Business To Prove That Land Ownership Brings Profit

Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Oksana Lekh collects wild berries in the forests in Zhytomyr Oblast to set up a family farming business
Courtesy of USAID's Agriculture and Rural Development Support Activity

Zhytomyr Oblast is famous for its bountiful forests, where people collect mushrooms and wild berries, which are plentiful and found everywhere. For centuries, local residents have harvested nature’s gifts for personal consumption from under the trees and shrub that cover 25 percent of the region's land mass.  From early childhood, kids learn the best places in the nearby forests to find mushrooms and berries. 

Oksana Lekh, a Zhytomyr Oblast resident, lives in the small village of Skuraty. She fell in love with the forest as a young child. Today she works as an administrator in a village club, but as soon as she has a free minute, she mounts her scooter and heads for her “hobby place,” the forest. 

In 2018, Oksana moved from harvesting blackberries for family consumption to selling at a market in Kyiv. Selling berries made a significant contribution to the family budget, and the additional 10 percent income planted in Oksana the idea to have her whole family collect berries. She was seriously considering launching a berry producing business, but the key concern holding her back was the long distance and amount of time to commute to the market in Kyiv.   

In February 2019, Malyn Factory, a local fruit and berries processor, which had received support from USAID’s Agriculture and Rural Development Support activity to enhance its production capacities, organized a seminar for local berry producers to promote its berry freezing services. 

“This seminar exposed me to so many opportunities for rural people,” Oksana explained, thinking back on the moment that transformed her from a social worker into a farmer. “Now I talk to all my neighbors about nothing but what we can grow in our small village. I truly believe that we can revive our village. I want to persuade my fellow residents to stop planting potatoes to feed their families and livestock; that we can earn a living from the land we own,” she continued. 

Using her 2018 savings, she planted a small raspberry field near her house in March 2019. In parallel, she spent all summer collecting blackberries in the nearby forest to earn her starting capital of UAH 60,000 (approximately USD $2,400) for a family farming business.

She turned to the Malyn Factory, which agreed to take her berries and freeze them for future sales.

“While collecting berries daily, I did not realize that I had harvested a total of more than one ton of berries in 2019. That would not have been possible without having a local freezing facility where I could properly keep the berries,” Oksana says of her astonishing results in 2019.

And she has many plans as she further develops her young business. “I have installed an irrigation system for my 1,000-square-meter raspberry field and set up another 3,000-square-meter field for blueberries. Next year I plan to double my revenue, and hopefully my neighbors will follow my example.” 

Land was always treated as a source of livelihood for rural people in Ukraine. During Soviet times, people were forced to work on collective farms that undermined the concept of land ownership. Many rural residents still do not perceive land as property for a farming business, and in many cases they are scared of potential failures. Oksana’s enthusiasm shows how residents of village Skuraty and other nearby villages can build a successful family farming business.

Last updated: March 18, 2020

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