UNITY’s Support for One Business Feeds the Whole Village

By Inna Lubynets, Team Lead, Making Cents International

“No one wanted to support us,” said Kateryna, owner of the Family Farm. “Banks refused to give us loans because of the war, and we did not know about grant opportunities. [The Business Support Program under UNITY] was our only chance for development.”

Kateryna, age 35, started this family farm with her husband in 2017. It is the only business engaged in livestock farming in this district of Ukraine. Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kateryna and her family were committed to providing not only healthy, sustainably produced, and affordable food, but also stable jobs for their community. While the farm grew steadily before the war, it would lose employees because there was not enough work to keep them in the community during the winter.

With a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Kateryna and her husband developed plans to address this, but they could not secure funding because their farm equipment was old and they could not demonstrate significant profits, so no bank was willing to provide financing. They were not aware that there were other funding sources, and the local government did not provide information about financing opportunities.

Even though she was concerned with her own family’s income, Kateryna always felt strong ties to her community and wanted to help her neighbors, even more so with the onset of the war. The Family Farm provided milk for about 1,000 internally displaced people every week.

“Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, many internally displaced people, without money and housing have arrived in the community. We wanted to help them with dairy products and distributed them for free. We were able to give out such a large amount because, due to the hostilities, it was not possible to transfer milk to a milk processing plant.”

With less income to keep the farm afloat, Kateryna and her husband continued to look for funding. Banks were even more reluctant to lend money because of the war. A friend suggested Kateryna search the Internet for funding programs. While Kateryna was skeptical about getting anything for free, her hesitant efforts yielded some rugs to keep her cows warm and a small recovery loan for her crops damaged by hail. This small success was encouraging and eye-opening: Kateryna realized she could get more support with more knowledge. So, she turned to Facebook to learn more about being an entrepreneur. She saw the Business Support Program advertised on Facebook and decided to apply even though she thought she had little hope of being selected—she was 35 at the time and was sure younger people stood a better chance. More than anything, she did not want to think about her current problems and filling out the application was a good distraction. She decided that since it did not cost money to dream, she apply with a plan that would allow her to fulfill her childhood dream of making cheese.

To her surprise, Kateryna’s application was selected. With financial assistance and training from the Business Support Program, Kateryna invested in equipment for milk processing: a 200-liter pasteurizer, a

pH meter, a milk pump, a cheese press, a refrigerator for cheese maturation, a cheese molding trolley for nine molds, a set of molds, equipment delivery, a logo and banner, and a flyer. She established the Family Cheese Factory, the only cheese producer in a 50-kilometer radius. The company launched two new production lines that yield 20 kilos of cheese and 10 kilos of butter daily. They also opened a sales point at the local village market.

With this sales point, better marketing, and a wider assortment of products, the number of customers increased from 20 to 100 people. Kateryna notes: “We now produce less milk because we process the bulk of it into cheese, thanks to the equipment we bought with a grant.”

“Thanks to training and cooperation with mentors in [USAID’s] program, we can now navigate the project writing, win grants, and purchase equipment,” explained Kateryna.

Kateryna holding dairy products from her family-owned farm.

Understanding the specifics of grants is just one component of participation in the Business Support Program that positively affected her. Thanks to the training program and work with her mentor, Alina, Kateryna successfully wrote a project proposal to purchase a powerful generator that helps supply fresh water to both people and animals in her community, when the electric power is cut, which happens often due to the war. She submitted the project to the Corteva Foundation, and, in December 2022, the new generator was purchased and transferred to the Fire Station of her community, helping not only the farm, but also the entire community of 11,305 residents and 2,450 internally displaced people.

Kateryna also learned about the International Organization for Migration’s grant program to support microenterprises in Ukraine. With support from her mentor, she applied for and obtained a grant to purchase a feed mixer for the farm’s 76 cows. This purchase allowed the farm to create new jobs and hire two new employees. With the purchase of the mixer, they were able to improve the mixing process, select the best feed for the animals, and optimize milk production at the farm.

She did not stop there. In February 2023, Kateryna cooperated with the mentors from the Business Support Program to apply for and win the “Independent” grant under the USAID-supported program with the Astarta Foundation. The grant allowed for the purchase of a butter churn, a hot liquid pump, a vacuum cleaner, a separator, metal shelves, a washing bath, a 500-liter food steel barrel for transporting milk, a bottle packaging machine, and a cream tank.

Over the past few months, Kateryna’s life has changed a lot. She has become a mentor for the other entrepreneurs in the community, motivating them to act rather than complain. She was also invited to speak at the university, where she inspired students to engage in farming. In addition, she organizes educational tours for schoolchildren, explaining about the production process.

Refusing to stop dreaming, Kateryna continues to make plans to ensure the success of her business. The next steps are to introduce a new cheese collection to existing customers, expand the scope of sales outside the community, and obtain nutrition certificates to increase sales to wholesale customers. She plans to create more and more jobs for the local population, focusing on persons with disabilities as she lives with a disability too. Thanks to what she has learned through the Business Support Program and her sheer determination, those plans are more tangible than they used to be.