Women agricultural producers in North Macedonia get help to grow their businesses

Under a new measure achieved through gender-responsive budgeting, 250 women farmers received financial support to expand their businesses.


Zivka Gjurchinovska. Photo: UN Women/Mirjana Nedeva
Zivka Gjurchinovska. Photo: UN Women/Mirjana Nedeva

Zivka Gjurchinovska is a farmer and mother of three who lives with her family in the picturesque village of Tumchevishte, in the north-western part of North Macedonia. She has been working in agriculture for 20 years – producing corn, wheat, beans, potatoes and other vegetables. A few years back, at their children’s suggestion, Gjurchinovska and her husband decided to try growing hazelnuts. They now have 750 hazel trees on 8,000 m2 of leased land.

“The hazel trees do not give hazelnuts in the first seven to eight years, so one has to be patient,” says Gjurchinovska. “We got our first round of hazelnuts two years ago.”

They started sorting the raw hazelnuts manually, which is very time-consuming and difficult, so Gjurchinovska decided to apply for a grant under a new government programme called Measure 115.

With UN Women support, the Working Group on Gender Equality, under the auspices of North Macedonia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, developed the measure as part of the National Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (2018–2022). The measure gave women registered as agricultural producers the opportunity to apply for grants to sustain and grow their businesses.

Gjurchinovska obtained a grant, which she used to purchase a hazelnut-sorting and shell-cracking machine that would significantly help her get her product to market.

“There is a lot of work in producing hazelnuts. We still collect them manually, from the hazel trees and from the ground; then we need to sort the different types, dry them, crack the shells and roast them. Now it will be much easier – with much of the process done mechanically, our work will be done much faster,” says Gjurchinovska. “My next step is to upgrade the business with a hazelnut-pealing and roasting machine. I can say that any financial support is really helpful, especially for us women farmers. This motivated me not to give up.”

Frosina Georgievska. Photo: UN Women/Mirjana Nedeva
Frosina Georgievska. Photo: UN Women/Mirjana Nedeva

Another registered woman agricultural producer who has benefited from a grant under Measure 115 is Frosina Georgievska. The fruit producer from the town of Prespa, in the south-western part of the country, is also a vocal activist for advancing the position of rural women. 

Prior to becoming a registered agriculture producer herself in 2009, Georgievska worked with other farmers that motivated her to establish her own business. She then leased her first land in her name, and began expanding the business, working with her husband. She now has 13,500 m2 of land with fruit trees, mainly apples, but also pears, plums and cherries.

Georgievska dedicates a lot of her time to lobbying for agriculture workers’ rights and is a great inspiration to women. She is happy to see that the number of women registered as agriculture producers in Prespa is growing, which she says helps fight gender stereotypes in agriculture.

As Frosina describes, 90 per cent of the residents in Resen make a living in the apple business. Therefore, investing in the modernization of apple processing is crucial for the livelihood of the community.

“I was able to purchase a mill, press and tanks for apples and a liquid-filling machine, which will help me greatly in getting my product to market,” says Georgievska. “The grant is an important institutional support, but at the same time, it is a motivation to continue working on something that we have been planning for a long time.”

The GRB process helped the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy recognize that the financial support to registered women agricultural producers would be instrumental for sustaining small agricultural businesses and reducing the gender inequalities that exist in this sector. In fact, instead of the initially planned 100 grants, the Ministry identified the importance of expanding financial support, which resulted in doubling the annual budget for the measure and providing the support to 250 women producers.

“This provides broad opportunities for women in rural areas to expand their businesses and introduce new products. In that respect, women from rural areas have a positive influence on the domestic economic growth,” notes Arijanit Hoxha, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy.

The first of its kind, Measure 115 came about as a result of the tried-and-true process of gender-responsive budgeting, which seeks to ensure that the needs of women and girls are met and prioritized in public policies, programmes and spending.

The UN Women project “Promoting Gender-Responsive Policies and Budgets: Towards Transparent, Inclusive and Accountable Governance in the Republic of North Macedonia”, is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida). Both donors are strongly committed to accelerating the economic empowerment of women working in agriculture and living in rural areas.

“Providing women with access to productive resources and opportunities may be the key to bolstering the agricultural sector and creating a sustainable economic development. By working together, the Government, civil society, private sector and individuals, can support gender equality in agriculture and rural areas,” stated the Ambassador of Switzerland to North Macedonia, Sybille Suter.

“Ensuring the gender-equitable distribution of budgetary resources in order to best meet the specific needs of women and men, as well as girls and boys, contributes to providing equal opportunities for everyone and strengthens the democratic processes in society,” says the Ambassador of Sweden to North Macedonia, Kristin Forsgren Bengtsson. “Originating from a rural area myself, I am aware of the importance of small businesses’ contributions to the development of rural communities. Sweden is proud to, jointly with Switzerland, contribute to the introduction of gender-responsive budgeting in North Macedonia, utilizing the knowledge and expertise provided by UN Women.”