So what exactly does the Impact Assessment Intern at the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project do? Please allow me to explain in this next post… ( ha! Like how formal my English has gotten? Tends to happen when you speak mostly to non-native English Speakers or in your non-native language!) Anyhow, basically my job is to create a series of Most Significant Change Stories on the project's participants. For anyone who has ever done any sort of research project, you will know that even though what is most valued is the outcome or the final product, the process is equally important and just as valuable (at least for the researcher anyway!). So I will share both the process and the (still not quite finished) product with you with the hopes that you will get a better understanding not only of what I do here, but what the project does as well.
To start the whole process, the clients that were going to be highlighted needed to be chosen. This was done by going through all of the project's newsletters searching for clients who have experienced significant change since starting with the project. The data was coded according to the aspect of the project that impacted the clients' Most Significant Change. A database was created and all relevant information on the clients was imported from other existing databases. Interview guides were created and translated. Prior to interviewing the clients themselves, preliminary interviews were conducted with project specialists to gather more background information on the clients. And finally, the first round of interviews were conducted. None of this would have been possible were it not for Ola, the other intern working for the UHDP- who unlike me, is fluent in Russian!
We have completed our first round of 5 interviews and are working on creating the finished the project. Let me share with you Esma Khalilova's Story:
Esma Khalilova- Chairperson of Umyut Cooperative
Lives in: Belagorsk region of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Client since: 2010
Status: Married with two grown children
Main Crops: Medicinal Herbs
Other Sources of Income: Medicinal Herb Consolidator
Before the Project:
Esma Khalilova and her family came to Crimea as asylum-seekers from Uzbekistan. Poor and lacking economic opportunity, their situation was further hindered by the discrimination they faced for their Crimean Tatar heritage. Despite these conditions, Esma started the Cooperative Umyut, which means, "Hope". Now, not only is Esma the chairperson of Umyut, she is also one of the main medicinal herb consolidators in the region.
As an entrepreneur, Esma had nowhere to go for advice or training to legitimize her business and expand to profitable markets.
Working with the project, Esma and her team of managers have developed a strategic plan for Umyut's development. The plan is designed to change members' approaches to herb collection from merely a pastime to a viable business opportunity. The plan works on the following three aspects:
- Collection and Cultivation- Education on herb collection and growing
- Consolidation- Implementation of lead farmer model
- Post-Harvest Services- Sorting, Drying and Packaging
The project has positively impacted Umyut in all 3 areas of the cooperative's operations. For example, Esma introduced members of the collective to the idea of cultivating medicinal herbs, rather than just collecting them in the wild, and now more than 40 people cultivate herbs on their own land. Furthermore, Umyut has adopted the project's lead farmer model for consolidation, enabling the quick and coordinated collection of large volumes for sales. The model works by connecting individual cooperative members who gather small quantities of herbs to regional lead farmers, who consolidate and transport the large batches to Esma. Esma then manages futher processing, packaging, and sales. Currently, one of the main projects for Esma and Umyut in post-harvest services is the construction of a drying and storage facility that will operate with wind and solar power, and will include a conveyor belt for reduced manual labor.
The most significant change for Esma as a result of her participation in the UHDP has come on the marketing front. Since working with the project Umyut has officially registered as a cooperative, and has registered their brand. Now that they are officially registered, Umyut's 60 varieties of tea can be found in retail stores throughout Ukraine. Esma explains: "We knew we had to register the brand, and we spent three years wandering around and asking questions, but MEDA provided us with hired consultants that helped us register. Now we give samples, it is certified as a product that is regulated and that meets quality control and can be sold throughout Ukraine. The next step is to get certification for international sales."
According to Esma, without the project they would never be where they are today. Esma explains: "what we have accomplished in two years with the project would have taken ten on our own!"