In the north-west regions of Azerbaijan, the UNDP and the government are helping local communities establish smallholder family businesses, with substantial financial support from the European Union, as part of the EU4Business initiative.
The joint project signed just under a year ago aims to promote rural entrepreneurship, inclusive employment and technological innovation in 6 regions of the Shaki-Zaqatala Economic Zone covering Balakan, Gakh, Gabala, Oghuz, Shaki and Zaqatala.
The project is implemented in close collaboration with the ABAD Public Legal Entity of the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations and enhances local capacity building in rural communities of Azerbaijan. It also offers operational support to the ABAD regional centre in Balakan to further help families that meet the project eligibility criteria with business development and planning, branding and design, financial accounting and legal assistance services.
Since the launch of this collaboration, the project has identified 44 target families, which have the potential to grow into successful business models. While initially aiming to establish only 30 smallholder family businesses in the course of three years of the project lifespan, this number has quickly grown to 44 within just the first year of the implementation phase. In keeping with the pledge to ‘leave no one behind’, the EU, UNDP and the government of Azerbaijan ensure that the most vulnerable segments of society can also benefit from this initiative. As such, 23 out of 44 select families in the Shaki-Zaqatala region are women-led businesses, while 12 families are chosen from the IDP community who lost their homes to war more than 25 years ago. Up to the present, select smallholder families have received extensive capacity building and training in areas such as financial management, business development, international trading and commerce, gender equality in small and medium-sized enterprises, corporate social responsibility, logistics and packaging.
As of now, 22 families have already received essential procurement and equipment support and are ready to move forward with production and manufacturing plans in their respective areas of business.
The family businesses specialise in a broad array of industries. They range from the traditional art of authentic carpet weaving nurtured by Karabakh artisans in Balakan’s IDP community, to sustainably-produced, hormone-free ice-cream made of organic whole milk. In recent years, Balakan has been growing in popularity also as the paradise of persimmon – a nutrient fruit rich in vitamins and one of the country’s top export products. Tapping into the growing market demand for locally produced fruit, many family businesses will specialise in fruit manufacturing and the production of dried persimmons. Others choose to pursue their business in chicken and pheasant breeding and mushroom cultivation in greenhouses.
The development work in the Shaki-Zaqatala economic region of Azerbaijan is part of a three-year grant project – 'Support to the development of small family businesses in the Sheki-Zagatala Economic Zone through ABAD regional centre in Balakan' – which aims to boost entrepreneurship and job creation in the region, by working with and building the capacity of the ‘ABAD’ public body for support to family business, as well with selected target families to develop skills and support the growth of micro enterprises. The project is funded by the EU as part of its EU4Business initiative, and implemented by UNDP.