Finding strength in numbers: Entrepreneur Amira Cerkezovic leads a women’s only dairy production line in Bosnia

My name is Amira Cerkezovic and  I live in a small mining village near Zivinice. My mother suffers from Parkinson’s disease and when my father passed away, she became dependent on me to care for here. After my husband died in 2006, I was left with two children and his small pension. In my community, women without husbands are often isolated and struggle to maintain income for the family. My husband’s family offered no support after his death, meaning I had to find a solution on my own.

With the help of Islamic Relief, my daughter was granted sponsorship to receive quality schooling. I too, received support via their greenhouse project, growing and selling vegetables. I used the income from my produce and invest in a dairy cow for milk production. I then partnered with a local dairy supplier and was able to sell my milk produce to them.

In order to have high quality milk, I need to provide healthy cow food. I also have to ensure that there is enough food supply for my own household. This involves a lot of physical work on the field and the market stall, the majority of which I have to do on my own. I do not have my own land, but I rent arable land from the local community on an annual basis.

In order to sustain the partnership with the local dairy, I have to meet their daily milk capacity. Unfortunately with my cows, I am unable to achieve it on my own. There are many other unemployed women in my village who have cows for their own household needs. So, I came up with the idea of ​​offering these women a chance to collaborate. At first, the women were uncertain of the business, as many doubted their abilities. Some of them could not make their own decisions because they had to consult with other family members beforehand.

Eventually, some of us started the team production, and soon we were able to produce milk in large quantities, meeting the local dairy needs and getting our product on the market. The services that this group of women offers is a guaranteed milk purchase and a guaranteed income. There is no doubt that our group has strengthened the local community, by improving our economic situation. As we become independent, we can broaden the capacity of the livestock fund and increase the area of arable land at the local level.

After one year of milk production and sale, the lives of these women have changed drastically. We are delivering 500 litres of milk a day, a capacity we wish to increase over the next few years. But the biggest changes in these women’s lives are within themselves: they have more confidence and courage. Through a series of training on cow nutrition for the production of quality milk, socialising has helped these women to change their way of thinking, becoming more open-minded and communicative. Together, we have become economically and financially independent. We are able to give back to the community, passing on our knowledge to help families with their own milk production. Our community has been uplifted, and our outlook for the future is broader every day.