Rural women in business: the quest for markets

Mar 9, 2013

Fair of rural produce by women entrepreneurs in rural areas / Photo by: Silvana Skočajić)

Women entrepreneurs from rural areas in Croatia, whose businesses produce goods of high quality, shared their frustrations and successes in reaching markets at the round table organized to mark International Women's Day by the United Nations in Croatia and embassies of Canada and Australia at the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Many of these women, who have started small businesses, from producing souvenirs to products like cheese, cabbage, jams and cakes, have met numerous obstacles when attempting to launch their products on the market. The discussion was initiated as a chance to celebrate the achievements of rural women, but also to identify what needs to change in terms of both supply and demand, for rural businesses to fulfill their potential.

President Ivo Josipovic opened the conference emphasizing that the experience of some women, including the former Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, who attended the discussion, showed that there was no position in society, from culture through the economy to politics, in which women could not be as successful as men.

"This gathering brings together 3 key words – women, entrepreneurship and rural. All three of them represent three serious issues in our country," concluded Josipović. The position of women entrepreneurs in rural areas is additionally complicated by the fact that they are often members of national minorities, Josipović continued. Mentioning Plitvice Lakes National Park, he said women there could drive development by linking the economy, culture and the rural tradition.

"The UN agencies have worked in this area for many many years. Over these two decades, we have met many creative and resourceful women who are working in difficult conditions to make a better life for their families," said UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Croatia Louisa Vinton. "Yet almost all of the rural entrepreneurs we have met face the same daunting challenge – they cannot find markets for their goods."

She said that in an area such as a national park, which is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, there should be no obstacles to that.

Nikolina Anić, from family farm in Krasno, shared her experience in cheese production in remote areas like Velebit. Located too far from dairy plants to sell their milk, they decided to sell the final product - cheese. National Park Northern Velebit being visited by numerous tourists throughout the year, thanks to cooperation with the Park management they manage to sell enough for a quality life.

The brand "Šinjorina Smokva" (Lady Fig) is already a well known brand, originating from a family farm led by Sandra Babac and her husband, who work in organic production of figs. For their business, they received a grant from UNDP, which also financed a consultant to work with them, helping them to apply for funds from IPARD and further develop their brand. Today they export to Sweden and plan to expand their offer to quince and maraska cherry products.

The problems that producers of healthy food face was emphasized by Marica Jakoliš, from the family farm of organic fruit and vegetables in Stankovci, as she is often asked why are these products so expensive.

"In the end, this type of food is much cheaper than conventional, as you do not throw away anything, and it is good for your health," said Jakoliš, who received a UNDP grant for irrigation. She said that her road to success was not easy, but before even thinking of enlarging her business, she first explored the market and gathered information through direct contact with potential customers.

A more bumpy road was faced by members of the "Tara" association from Ličko Petrovo selo, which gathers mostly elderly women. They produce handmade crafts and souvenirs, but none of them got a job in the association, none of them opened a business, and even the premises where they work are not in their ownership, which prevents them from applying for projects. They did not receive much support from the national park management, and if they want to sell their products there, the trading margin is too high.

Similar problems in accessing the national park shops were shared by the owner of a successful brand "Skradinske delicije" (The Skradin delicacies), Miranda Paić. Their success story starts from creating unique almond products to receiving the County award for the best souvenir in 2008 and 2011, and the UNDP award for the best agro-tourist estate in Dalmatia. A very important part of the story, she explained, is the visual identity, which is why she came in traditional folk costume and decorated her stand with almond flowers. Still, her products cannot be bought at the National Park Krka.

While many face problems in launching their products in national parks, Gordana Radaković, producer of Plitvička štrudla (the strudel from Plitvice) manages to sell her cakes on Plitvice, but the selling conditions are far from satisfactory, and from initial 3 selling locations, she was reduced to only one.

The women agreed that only work and persistence can lead to success, but the education of women and enabling their participation at fairs and various gatherings like this one is crucial for creating a network of contacts and initiating various initiatives and cooperation.

Vlatka Ružić, Head of Marketing and Sales Department at the Plitvice Lakes National Park confirmed there were problems in the past with small entrepreneurs, but that there is interest from the side of the national park management to work with small entrepreneurs and enrich their offer of souvenirs.

The participants agreed on the importance of networking and cooperation which would lead to the joint representation of small producers, and attract the interest of big hotel groups and national parks, but it would also open access to smaller businesses such as ethno villages which also represent markets for product placement.