The Power of Women: Female Farmers in Montenegro Speak Out

June 19, 2013


Female farmers account for approximately 65% of the work force on family agricultural holdings and 13% of total land holders in Montenegro.


  • Recognizing the importance of integrating women into agriculture, female farmers are working to overcome traditional family roles and misperceptions about the role of women in agriculture.
  • Thirty-seven small holder female farmers in Montenegro have benefitted from grants from the Montenegro Institutional Development and Agricultural Strengthening (MIDAS) to improve their farms.
  • Ljiljana K., a grant recipient, sparked the idea for a workshop specifically for female farmers to network and discussion about their needs face-to-face.

When it comes to farming in Montenegro, Ljiljana K., like many other female farmers around the country, has heard all kinds of stereotypes.

“Women are responsible for milking cows – this is not a man’s job.”

“Women may not own land, but they work on the farm.”

“My wife is irreplaceable, only she knows how to process the milk.”

These are just a few of the common refrains that echo in the ears of Ljiljana, a smallholder dairy farmer from Danilovgrad, Montenegro who has been working in agriculture for more than twenty years. Much has changed in the agriculture sector over the two decades that Ljiljana farmed and as these changes take shape, a small - but growing - group of women involved in the agriculture sector are starting to use their collective voice to demand that the Government more adequately address the specific needs and constraints faced by female farmers throughout the country.

Agriculture is extremely important for rural livelihoods in Montenegro, with as much as 70% of the country’s rural population living off of the land. Agriculture land resources account for nearly 38% of the country, making rural development critical for Montenegro. Furthermore, as female farmers account for approximately 65% of the work force on family agricultural holdings and 13% of total land holders in the country, their importance to the development of agriculture sector in Montenegro cannot be overstated.

In response to a need to boost rural livelihoods through the development of agriculture sector in the country, policy makers in Montenegro have developed a strategy for this sector which promotes improvements in sustainable resource management, food safety, adequate standards of living in rural areas, and competitiveness.

However, as Ljiljana and her colleagues know, any such improvements in the agricultural sector will ultimately be hampered until both women and men working in this sector given equal opportunity to to benefit from these improvements. Understanding this, Ljiljana began looking for ways to improve the situation for herself, as well as for other female farmers like her. Although successful overall in her own dairy business – producing about 750 milliliters of milk from 60 cows and calves each day –  Ljiljana began looking for ways to expand her operation by first reaching out to her local extension service.


" The machines we were using were 40-50 years old! "

Ljiljana K.

farmer, Montenegro

Ljiljana soon learned about the Montenegro Institutional Development and Agricultural Strengthening (MIDAS) Program – a $19.7 million World Bank Group project designed to improve delivery of government assistance for sustainable agriculture and rural development in Montenegro in a manner that is consistent with the European Union’s pre-accession requirements. As part of this project, Lilijana secured a grant of EUR 29,600 to implement a system to store food and improve mechanization of her business. 

Although Ljiljana was grateful for the opportunity to expand her small business, she nonetheless wanted more from this program. Ljiljana recognized the important role the extension agency played in providing her with information about opportunities like MIDAS and soon realized that while it is important to create such opportunities as MIDAS, it is equally important to ensure that information about these opportunities is made available – especially for female farmers, who are often excluded from trainings and other capacity building activities.

Ljiljana began thinking about the situation in Montenegro and how to improve the livelihoods of female farmers by redressing many of the common misconceptions about the role of female smallholder farmers in Montenegro. Although confident that change could occur, she was also aware of the challenges faced by many women who did not enjoy the same support from their husbands and families that she fortunately did.

Based on these discussions, Ljiljana initiated the idea to hold a workshop for female farmers, which was subsequently organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Montengro. On June 15-16, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development invited Ljiljana and13 other female farmers to a workshop dedicated to exploring ways to help female farmers strengthen their voice in agriculture by expanding networks, increasing opportunities, and raising awareness of their needs.

“We hope the situation of women in family agriculture businesses will change in the future,” said one participant at the workshop, “we are aware that we actually serve as model families – for younger generations as well.”

In addition to these farmers, participants also included extension agents, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, and the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) Montenegro. The World Bank and the European Commission also financed the participation of two international gender and agricultural experts.

The ideas and creative suggestions resulting from this meeting between the Ministry and the female farmers can now start to take root, helping agricultural services in Montenegro better serve all farmers in the country – women and men alike. By meeting and networking, these different participants in agriculture can now work together to begin creating more space within the agriculture sector for female smallholder farmers – thus showing that by promoting ideas and speaking up for a group whose particular interests are often overlooked, the lone voice a smallholder female farmer is sometimes all that is needed to set off an agenda for change.