Kosovo’s entry for the 94th Academy Awards to be held on 27 March 2022 in Los Angeles – the feature film Hive – tells a story of fortitude, solidarity, and rebuilding of lives. It is the real-life story of Fahrije Hoti, founder of the Agricultural Cooperative Krusha in Kosovo. What started out of necessity to provide living means for the war widows and orphans in the village is now a successful business 100% run by women, which sells to over 200 stores in Kosovo and exports to several European countries including Switzerland. Swisscontact facilitated consulting services and purchase of machinery which enabled the cooperative to improve their product and business.
Hive official trailer
A freshly paved sideroad off a main road in south Kosovo leads to the newly inaugurated production premises of one of the country’s strongest brands: Kooperativa Bujqësore Krusha - the Agricultural Cooperative Krusha. It started in 2005, when Fahrije Hoti established an association for the war widows of her village, to help one another rebuild their lives. They started with what they knew best and had done all their lives: make ajvar – a red pepper paste and staple ingredient of Kosovo’s traditional cuisine, and pickled vegetables.
In 2010, she registered the agricultural cooperative as a business and began production in larger quantities, primarily for the export market. The drawing of a woman in traditional attire is the logo representing everything that this cooperative stands for.
Initially, Fahrije managed production from smaller premises, which had been upgraded with funding from the Swiss international cooperation. As demand grew, larger and more modern facilities were needed. In 2021, Fahrije inaugurated the new factory built with the significant support of the EU and other volunteering organisations. The factory has excellent working conditions for over 75 women involved in production, and the operations team.
“Everything I have, I have thanks to my work at the cooperative. Not just me but all women who first started to work here,” says Fahrije.
Timely and tailored support is crucial for success
“We don’t need funds or assistance. We need work,” says the movie-Fahrije. Real-life Fahrije affirms it:
Since 2015, Swisscontact has provided varied support to KB Krusha through the Promoting Private Sector Employment (PPSE) project in Kosovo. Through a Kosovo firm engaged by PPSE, support was provided to the cooperative to improve their processes, products, and services. An expert deployed through Swisscontact’s Senior Expert Contact program worked with Fahrije in improving their business plan, brand image, and market position. Another expert contributed with improving the product durability.
In 2020, KB Krusha was part of the contract farming intervention of PPSE, through which its contracted farmers were subsidised with 250,000 vegetable seedlings and received counselling services. “It was a success as farmers met the contracted quantity, even had surplus,” says Fahrije. Most recently, in cooperation with Swisscontact, KB Krusha acquired a much-needed machinery to clean, roast, and peel peppers used for making ajvar.
The recently installed machinery accelerates the process of pepper roasting, peeling, and grinding, and increases the quantity of peppers processed per hour. “This new line roasts up to 1,500 kg of peppers per hour,” says Fahrije Hoti. “With increased capacities we will expand the ajvar season, hire more workers, and contract more farmers for larger quantities of vegetables,” she adds. Roasted peppers in small packaging are a new product to be added to their shelf, all made possible by the new machinery.
“Co-investing in this machinery was worth it. No raw product goes to waste, the capacity has increased, the work is easier, working conditions better. The difference is like night and day,” says Artan Zenuni, Fahrije’s assistant manager.
In the movie, ajvar-makers say “We have made ajvar our entire lives. We know how to do it better than anyone.” Tailored and timely support provided to the cooperative has made all the difference to them – it expedited growth and demonstrated how Fahrije and her cooperative members are not victims of circumstances but agents of change.
Challenging gender norms and creating a new reality
“They are saying that if your husband was alive he’d be ashamed of you,” says a movie-fellow widow. Real-life Fahrije had to face worse prejudice and backlash from the community – especially men – when she first started to sell ajvar in street fairs and to small markets. The pressure affected her daughter, then a pre-teen, who one day returned from school angry and asked her mother to stop her business activity, as people were talking.
“Of course, I continued the work – if not for me alone, for all the widows who needed jobs, and their children, and for our sanity. Here we are sixteen years later. The same farmers who laughed at our work, now sell their vegetables to KB Krusha every year. Some of their wives work here too all the time, others once they are done with the vegetable cultivation and pickling in their own homes”, says Fahrije. With the new investments, the work season is expected to extend to 11 months a year for all employees.
She is very proud at this change that has happened within the community and awed at the impact that the story of the women from the village Krusha e Madhe has achieved on an international scale.
The power of community ties
“You can’t do this all on your own. Didn’t you ask for help? We are not doing this just for you but for ourselves. For all of us”, say the movie-fellow widows. Fahrije agrees. For her, the most important impact of her enterprise was that it gave devastated women a place to be together, share their burden, and rebuild lives.
Sadbere Hoti is among the first women who started to work for KB Krusha, since 2008. A war widow, mother to a daughter, this was her first ever job outside of home.
On 11 November 2020, the president of the Swiss National Council Isabelle Moret paid a visit to Krusha, where she met with Fahrije Hoti and the women there. In a Facebook post, the Embassy of Switzerland in Kosovo wrote that “Switzerland is proud of the hard work of the women of Krusha and impressed by the quality of their products which are exported to Switzerland and beyond.”
The impressive progress of KB Krusha in the last 16 years is a powerful example of how women’s economic empowerment – regardless of the circumstances – is the key to ending poverty for the communities and the society at large, and for making them more equal and inclusive for everyone.