Fahrije Hoti is beaming over jars of red pepper spread and fresh green pepper in cream cheese in a house-turned-pepper processing plant. “We are the only 100% woman-run and staffed enterprise in Kosovo”, says Hoti, a 44-year-old woman farmer. Hoti, who manages the Krusha agriculture cooperative, has reason to be proud. The cooperative has helped its 40 women employees rebuild their lives in the wake of the tragic 1998-99 war in Kosovo.enterprise
On March 26, 1999, in one of the worst single atrocities of the war, women and children fled as Krusha village went up in flames and over 200 men aged 12 to 90 were rounded-up and killed. Some 500 children from Krusha -- including Hoti’s 3-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son -- lost their fathers. Upon returning to the village at the end of the war, the women were confronted by the giant task of rebuilding their families’ lives on their own. “We decided to return to life, to work”, recalls Hoti. The widows started to plant crops, work the land and do all the work that their husbands used to do. Hoti planted peppers, but she found it impossible to sell in markets because going into the streets as a young widow was considered inappropriate in her small community. In dire need of income, she had the idea of pickling the peppers.
In 2005, with the help of some international NGOs and donors, Hoti and some other women began processing and conserving their produce for the winter. Five years later, they transformed their Widow’s association into a registered business, and Kooperativa Krusha was born. Now their products are sold in 200 stores across Kosovo and are being exported to Switzerland.
Last year, Kooperativa Krusha received a co-financing grant of around 15,500 Euros from the Agriculture and Rural Development Project, which is implemented by the Government of Kosovo and supported by a US $20.5 million credit from the World Bank, as well as a US $9.28 million equivalent grant from the Government of Denmark. They invested in machinery for pepper baking, shock tubs, baking pans for Ajvar pepper spread, grinding machinery for peppers and cabbages, and a cauldron for the elaboration of peppers. “We have doubled the production of Ajvar pepper spread, from 20,000 kilograms to almost 40,000 kilograms due to the new equipment we got,” says Hoti. “The work has become easier with the new pepper processing machines, but due to increased capacity we were also able to increase the number of employees, from 25 last year to 43 currently,” she adds.
Jan-Peter Olters, World Bank Country Manager for Kosovo, noted that the cooperative could be an inspiration for others. "The Krusha cooperative is an especially encouraging example of how Kosovo's significant, but too often dormant potential can be unlocked, even in the most difficult circumstances with a combination of private initiative and accompanying, enabling improvements in the overarching institutional environment."