Five years ago, in the early days of PONT and CNVP’s cooperation in the Prespa area, a group of women was identified who were taking action independently but we could see had extraordinary potential should they collaborate.
The group of women was supported by CNVP in 2019 through the PONT Grant “NTFPs for Prespa Economic Development”. The grant focused on developing their capacity to contribute to nature conservation through the cultivation of the mountain Prespa tea (Sideritis raeseri) as a priority non-timber forest product (NTFP) that is threatened by uncontrolled and excessive harvesting in the wild.
At the same time, the PONT grant aimed to help the women’s group establishing a formal structure and mission to guide their contribution to socio-economic and environmental sustainability in the Prespa region. By formally registering as a Civil Society Organization in July 2020, the group now had access to a wider range of funding opportunities. CNVP continued its support of the Rural Women of Prespa (RWoP) specifically around developing a strategic and operational plan to guide the association’s future development and visibility.
The project took on a transboundary approach which enabled stakeholders to share knowledge and exchange experiences. It facilitated and improved interactions between local actors and the people in the Prespa area of North Macedonia and Albania. Through the support of the Swedish funded LED project, the CNVP office in Albania also assisted the women in establishing farming contract agreements facilitating communication between Medicinal and Aromatic Plant (MAP) producers (women-market supply) and interested companies (market demand). Capacity building and awareness raising among MAP farmers was highly inclusive, resulting in widespread MAP cropping in the Prespa Area.
Over the past few years, the work of the RWoP has showcased the importance of grassroots organisations in nature conservation. By bringing together women from Prespa of various nationalities, ages, and professions who, and by combining their culinary skills, the RWoP have made significant progress towards the goal of conserving the mountain tea.
A database of mountain tea collectors in the Prespa region has been created to potentially involve them in its cultivation and to raise awareness about the importance of its conservation in the wild. Most of the events in the Prespa region now feature the RWoP serving organic food and mountain tea that they planted and grew. They have created an identity in the market where they operate as a result of the two projects, and have become known for their unique services, which not only allow them to generate income but also significantly contribute to nature conservation and environmental protection.
A series of training sessions, tailored to the needs of women, were implemented as part of the new project “Empowering women for NTFP development in Prespa,” through a follow-up grant from PONT, being implemented by CNVP with RWoP as an implementing partner. A high-quality dehydrator was also provided to RWoP with this grant, enabling them to produce new products, such as dried apples, plums, mushrooms, herbs, and so on.
Rume, one of the RWoP’s members, explained how the PONT grant and CNVP’s support benefited her: “I am really very satisfied with the project, we gained new experiences, we visited other places and are fully equipped to deal with our duties”.
Violeta, the current president of the RWoP stated that “with this project, our expectations were fully met and exceeded. We have improved our internal communication thanks to the association’s capacity-building workshops, and we now have our own office, a product promotion stand, and much more”.
Merita, another RWoP member, emphasised: ” I got a lot from this project, I got educated, many friends and new ideas on healthy food, and my children started to eat the fruit at home, instead of buying it from the store.”
Five years on, the members of RWoP continue to be motivated, dedicated, ambitious and confident. They are now increasingly recognised as a success story by women in other parts of the country and are frequently invited to share their experiences with similar grassroots initiatives.
Written by: CNVP