Article by: Orest Sarmatskyi
The residents of the village of Losiatyn, in the Kremenets district in Ternopil Oblast, are not waiting for support from the government but are relying on themselves and organizing cooperatives that help them achieve prosperity.
Initiatives backed by business
Everything began with the cooperative. Seven years ago, the first cooperative, the Losiatyn Dairy Source, was organized in the village. This was done thanks to the initiative of Maria Zadvorna, director of the Kremenets Milk Company that for years had procured milk from Losiatyn. It was Zadrovna who proposed that the villagers unite in a cooperative that would allow for more efficient farming. Eventually the milk company helped to install refrigeration and organized specialists to monitor the quality of the milk delivered by the villagers. People understood that this kind of cooperative was mutually beneficial for the company and for themselves. Gradually they began to raise more cows, and today almost every household has from two to ten cows, which provide a comfortable living for the villagers.
“In addition to cows, people also wanted to have other sources of income,” village head Nadia Zalevska explains. “But we knew that we would find it difficult to accomplish what we wanted by ourselves, especially to grow high yields of potatoes, grains and vegetables. This is why we turned to one of the international foundations. Their representatives studied the community project and then gave us a grant for its realization. Additionally, people received high quality potatoes and grains. With the help of correct scientific cultivation methods, we were able to grow high yields that brought us solid financial profits.” she says.
Relying on new technologies
According to Zalevska, the strawberry cooperative Berry Land has been particularly profitable every year. It now has a refrigerated room and a production line for manufacturing peat briquettes.
This project and others in Losiatyn operate on the principle of co-financing. A portion of the project financing comes from the local budget, a portion from the state budget, and the rest from investments. The income goes to the people and to the treasury of the village council, which pays for the development of the village infrastructure.
“At first we planted 10 hectares of strawberries. Now the plantings cover almost 32 hectares. The cooperative field takes up 25 hectares, and 7 are cultivated by family farms. Last year we picked almost 350 tons,” Zalevska explains. “We are growing strawberries using the latest techniques. The berries grow on special beds using drip irrigation. To feed and protect the strawberries we buy high quality fertilizers and other chemicals from the leading manufacturers,” she adds.
The Losiatyn cooperative uses propagating material only from certified Ukrainian nurseries to ensure that the variety is authentic and the plants free of virus. Currently the Polka and Honeoye strawberry varieties are being grown on the cooperative’s fields since they have been approved by experts and produce good yields.
During the production cycles the cooperative uses a refrigerated room with a 25-30 ton capacity, which was acquired with financial support from the company and USAID (US Agency for International Development). Last year another refrigerated room was installed nearby, which was acquired with funds from the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) fund and company financing in the amount of 120,000 UAH. This room can hold 25 tons of frozen strawberries.
From the field to yogurt
According to Marek Wojtyna, general director of Danone-Ukraine, the company supports the Losiatyn projects and uses their products in the production of its own dairy products.
“We use choice Ukrainian products — milk, fruit and berries,” he explains. “We have been glad to see significant development of the rural communities over the four years of the strawberry project. After all, the creation of family farms by members of the cooperative is an important new stage in the development of the cooperative association. It attests to the maturity of the rural community and the sustainability of such a model. We plan to continue to support this project. In general, since the beginning of the project, we and other partners have already invested 1.4 million euros,” he says.
Wojtyna reports that Danone is also beginning a cooperative venture in Ukraine with 5 family strawberry farms in the Ternopil and Lviv Oblasts.
Cooperatives — the path to prosperity
The experience of the strawberry cooperatives in Losiatyn and other villages of Ternopil and Lviv Oblasts proves that the cooperative model of farming is an important step in the future of Ukrainian agriculture.
Most importantly, the cooperatives are revitalizing the region. Fewer and fewer farmers are leaving their homes in search of work and are beginning to develop their own family farms and grower associations to achieve the well-being of families and the community. From a village with abandoned homes, Losiatyn is transforming itself into the most socially successful settlement in the district. The confident and wealthy residents are becoming an example of rural initiative for other villages in Ukraine.
Today the Losiatyn strawberry cooperative alone is providing work for more that 700 villagers in the region. During the strawberry harvest season, the average monthly salary of an employee is close to 3,000 UAH. However, there are pickers who earn more than 4,000 UAH. And some families earn more than 30,000 UAH per season. Of course such a salary is considerably higher than the average monthly income of families in the rural areas of the Ternopil Oblast. In addition, the development of the strawberry cooperative supports a large number of the unemployed in neighboring districts, who are surviving with the help of the family farms.
In addition, independent family strawberry farms are also being created in Losiatyn. For example, Ivan Khomliuk joined the cooperative at its inception five years ago. Last year he decided to create his own 1.5 hectare family farm. He is cultivating the Honeoye variety of strawberries, which he sells to the Danone company in Ukraine. Last year his strawberry yield reached 8 tons per hectare. This past season the family received 150,000 UAH in revenues. The work is performed by five members of Ivan’s family and five members of his brother-in-law’s family.
Therefore, despite claims by skeptics that a prosperous life cannot be created in a particular locality, the Losiatyn villagers have proven otherwise. They have shown what is possible once inertia is overcome and expectations that someone will come to help make things better are abandoned. Only then will islands of prosperity and well-being begin to appear in Ukraine, as they have in Losiatyn, which has already been called the “strawberry paradise” of the Ternopil Oblast.