Yulia Molochko is a young Belarusian woman who was born and raised in Bragin County, Gomel Oblast, one of the regions of Belarus that suffered enormously from the Chornobyl catastrophe at the Chornobyl AES in 1986. Yulia herself has graduated from the Frantsisk Skorin University in Gomel. Despite having the opportunity to keep living and working in the oblast centre, when she graduated, the young woman returned to her native Bragin County.
Here she combines her main job as a teacher in the village school with farming: a business that her family has long been involved in. Using innovative eco-technologies in working the land, the Molochko family has been growing vegetables, fruit and greens, bringing to life a plan to develop a rural SME in Bragin County.
“A good basketful”
In addition to her family business, Yulia works actively with the local Eco-Innovation fund for the support of entrepreneurship and rural development. There the young woman is involved in an initiative with a pretty Belarusian name: “A good basketful,” which is part of the “Support for local economic development (LED) in Belarus” project being carried out by UNDP in partnership with the Belarus Ministry of Economy and funded by the European Union under the EU4Business initiative.
“We are helping residents of Bragin County to grow grains, to engage in dairy farming, and cheese-making on a level that will generate income and allow them to live a decent life,” says Yulia.
Some might say, what’s so difficult about sowing seeds or buying a cow? In fact, it’s a lot more complicated. To grow quality food, you have to decide what to grow and then select the right varieties, and take climate change into account as well. You also need to water properly, use suitable fertilizers, and much more. And so training and new skills play a major role here.
Yulia herself has participated in many workshops, exchanged experience with other farmers, and gained a lot of information from the interne, too. At this time, Yulia is using her knowledge to share with local farmers and with residents from other village.
Husbanding livestock is still more complicated: not everybody can afford to buy purebred goats or cows, but the “A good basket” initiative makes such a thing possible. First, 15 families acquired 15 purebred cows and goats to organize their own business and then they donated their firstborn to poor families.
“I think that the main problem in rural areas is lack of motivation,” says Yulia. “For many years after the Chornobyl catastrophe, the county was considered depressed. More than one generation of villagers grew up with this kind of mentality. Luckily, my friends and I think differently. We don’t want to see our home region depressed and going downhill. We’ve taken the first steps for people to feel a need to themselves change the world bit by bit. And our little victories inspire us.”
In the “A good basketful” initiative, Yulia also coordinates efforts to establish an internet shop in which county residents will be able to sell and buy fresh produce: corn, tomatoes, cheese, milk, honey, and much more. At the moment the internet shop only covers Bragin County, but Yulia’s plans and those of like-minded allies is to expand it to serve neighbouring Khoiniki and Loyev Counties, and eventually all of Gomel Oblast. In addition to the online shop, the initiative plans to organize the production of branded packing and offer a mobile produce delivery service. And that means that new jobs for locals.
“It’s important to understand that time keeps moving on and today information is all being digitalized, with bar codes and Q codes, all kinds of sites, and hyperlinks,” says Yulia enthusiastically. “Many people who live in the country know how to use modern gadgets and opportunities, and if they don’t, we’ll teach them.”
Success in resurrecting the counties that have suffered depends a lot on the initiative, entrepreneurial spirit, and optimism of young people like Yulia Molochko. Supporting entrepreneurship among young people in rural areas is one of the goals of the work of UNDP and its partners in Belarus in supporting local development. This support helps young people apply their knowledge and ideas and to feel an incentive to live in and develop in their native regions.
Initiatives by young people in rural areas have enormous potential for becoming the foci of local economic development and generate new jobs. Such initiatives bring locals together, helping them acquire new knowledge and skills. Youth initiatives also offer a centre for piloting new approaches and new business models, and introducing digital technologies in agriculture, and developing ecotourism and a green economy.