Yulia Molochko. The photographs are provided by the initiative.

Yulia Molochko

Yulia Molochko is a young Belarusian born and raised in the Brahin district of the Homiel region – the most Chernobyl-affected region in Belarus. Yulia is a graduate of the Francysk Skorina Homiel State University. Even though she could stay, live and work in the regional city after her studies, the young woman chose to return to her native Brahin district. Here, she works full-time as a rural schoolteacher, along with running farming – the long-time family business. The Molochko family uses innovative green agri-technologies to grow vegetables, fruits and other produce, helping rural SMEs development grow in the district.   

“Lagodny Koshik”

Apart from her family business, Yulia is an active member of the local entrepreneurship and rural development foundation “Eco-Innovation”. She is now involved in the initiative with a beautiful Belarusian name – “Lagodny Koshik” [“Delightful Farm Basket”], which is being implemented as part of the Project “Support to Economic Development at the Local Level in the Republic of Belarus” funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Belarus in partnership with the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Belarus.   

“We help residents of the Brahin district take farming – growing crops, dairy farming and cheese making – to the level when it generates income and allows them to live a decent life,” said Yulia.

It might seem quite easy to start – just sow seeds or buy a cow; however, in reality it all turns out to be much more complicated. To grow quality products, you first need to decide what to grow, and then choose the right varieties, while factoring in climate change. You should water your plants properly, and apply fertilizers as necessary, and do many other things. Learning to acquire new knowledge is key to success.

Julia has done much training, shared experience with other farmers, and learnt a lot from various Internet sources, and now she is spreading this knowledge among her fellow villagers and residents of other villages.

Starting an animal husbandry business is even more challenging, as not everyone can afford to buy purebred goats or cows. However, the Initiative “Lagodny Koshyk” offers such an opportunity. First, 15 families will receive purebred cows and goats to start their own business, and then they will donate the first offspring to low-income families.

A new way of thinking

“I think that a major problem in rural areas is lack of motivation. For many years after the Chernobyl disaster, the district was said to be steeped in depression. More than one generation of villagers were raised with this belief,” said Yulia. “Fortunately, my friends and I have a new way of thinking – we do not want to see our home district down in the dumps and going backwards. By implementing various projects and initiatives, we have taken the first steps to make people want to change the world around them bit by bit. And our small wins inspire us.”

In the Initiative “Lagodny Koshyk”, Yulia is also coordinating activities to build an online store where the local community will be able to sell and buy fresh produce: corn, tomatoes, cheese, milk, honey, etc. By now, the online store will cover the Brahin district only, but Yulia and her team are planning to scale it up to the adjacent Chojniki and Loyew districts, and in the future to the whole Homiel region. In addition to the online store, it is envisaged to set up the production of branded packaging and start a mobile delivery service. This means creating more new local jobs.

Julia is optimistic about this, “We know that time does not stand still, and today information becomes increasingly digital based on barcodes and QR codes, and various websites and hyperlinks. Many villagers can use modern gadgets and applications, and we will teach those who can’t.”

Successful revival of the affected districts largely depends on the initiative, entrepreneurial energy and optimism of young people like Yulia. Supporting youth entrepreneurship in rural areas is one of the strategic objectives set by UNDP and its partners in Belarus to support local development. This support helps young people apply their knowledge and ideas, and gives them an incentive to live and develop in their home districts. The initiatives proposed and implemented by young people in rural areas have great potential to become growth centres and to foster local economic growth and job creation. They bring local residents together, and help them acquire new knowledge and skills. Youth initiatives also act as centres for piloting innovative approaches, new business models and digital technologies to develop agriculture, ecotourism, and the green economy.

According to the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus (Belstat), about 1.8 million young people live in Belarus – nearly one in five people in the country. Rural regions of Belarus are home to 14% of Belarusian youth. Belarus defines youth as persons between the ages of 14 and 31.

The Initiative “Lagodny Koshik” is implemented as part of the Project “Support to Economic Development at the Local Level in the Republic of Belarus” funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Belarus in partnership with the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Belarus.  

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