Microcrediting helps farmers from a post-Chernobyl village overcome stereotypes
Twenty-five years ago the Chernobyl disaster knocked at the doors of residents of the Slaŭharad district of the Mahiliou Region in Belarus. They were also affected by the financial crisis that ravaged all post-Soviet countries in the early 1990s. It is not surprising that radioactively contaminated regions have been most hard-hit by economic recession. In difficult environmental and economic circumstances, the outpour of young people from villages increased, villages lacked advanced agricultural technologies, leading to a continuous decline in living standards.
Farming is the main source of income for the residents of the Biezujevichy village of the Slaŭharad district. Local resident Alena Malakhava has been running a poultry farm for more than 16 years. In recent years her farm has expanded to 110 geese, 120 chickens, 70 turkeys and 80 rabbits – and that is not all the livestock on her farm. Alena’s family has also bought a car and a mini-bakery, while just a couple of years ago the Malakhavs could hardly dream of this.
- With the improvement of living standards, the post-Chernobyl region is becoming more attractive for both business people and tourists.
In 2008 Alena Malakhava applied for her first loan to the local “Vozrozhdenie (Revitalization) – Agro” Fund for Rural Development, which has been supported by UNDP projects since 2007. “That year there was a terrible drought,” says Alena. ”We had nothing to harvest. Our only hope was meat and dairy farming”. The money borrowed by the family was spent on a milking unit. The purchase proved to be a successful start; then the Malakhavs bought other agricultural machinery (a motor-cultivator, a power stockkeeper, two incubators and a trailer). “Now we are planning to buy a tractor”, says Alena with a smile.
Alena’s experience is not unique. The district community of successful farmers like her is growing on a yearly basis. The most important thing is that they do not stall – that they set up initiative groups and bring in new potential business partners. “Does it really matter that we live in a contaminated area?” Alena seems genuinely surprised. “We need to value what we have. I try my best, and people look at me and develop their own initiatives”.
Ten years ago, UNDP Belarus, in conjunction with international donors (including the European Union, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, USAID), provided the first impetus to the development of local communities, helping them to shift from a victim mentality to taking full control of their destinies. This work has been conducted within the framework of several thematic projects. The first Rural Development Centres were established in Stolin (created with financial support from UN OCHA in 2006, it became the first in the country), Slaŭharad and Brahin. These Centres organise regular business trainings, consultations with professional agronomists and veterinarians, and arrange trips for the most active farmers to international fairs in order to exchange experience.
One of the most recent projects – “Enhancing Human Security in the Chernobyl-Affected Areas of Belarus”, a joint effort of UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and the national Ministry of Emergencies, which was financed by the UN Trust Fund for Human Security, also aimed to contribute to increased income stability for the owners of subsidiary plots and individual farms in three districts of the Brest, Homiel and Mahiliou regions by implementing lending and microcrediting schemes for their development. In recent years, with assistance from the project, farmers have received loans worth over US$ 350,000. These contributions help the affected districts feel more comfortable: livestock numbers are increasing every year, old cheese-making traditions are coming back – this is another opportunity for household income generation. Now villagers, who just a couple of years ago were scared to leave their villages, are making sound arrangements for supplying their products to other towns.
With the improvement of living standards, the region is becoming more attractive for both business people and tourists. If, five years ago, the Biezujevichy village’s close proximity to the resettled zones was frightening, today the prospering subsidiary plots and individual farms are the best evidence of the revitalisation of the Chernobyl-affected areas, and youngsters grazing their cattle are no longer dreaming of leaving their villages as soon as possible.