Backed by the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project, Havrex Ltd from Banja Luka is helping Lopare Municipality revive the production of Majevica Cheese Zarac, with women from remote villages taking charge of the production.

“We were on a completely different business in Lopare Municipality when the subject of Zarac cheese came up. It was put in the context of helping women from remote villages in the Majevica Mountain who were still producing it, and who were not included in any dairy industry value chain,” says Zoran Pavlović, Director of Havrex, a consulting firm from Banja Luka.

Havrex discussed this issue a bit more and in an agreement with the municipality they applied for a grant with the Sweden/USAID FARMA II project. “Our goal was to essentially make the first steps toward initiating an organized production of a standardized and certified Majevica Zarac Cheese by tens of female farmers and making it available in supermarkets.”

Cooperative to keep the tradition alive

According to Zoran, there are at least 50 to 60 women farmers in the Majevica Mountain who live in remote villages and have two to three cows on average. As part of their tradition, they still produce Zarac Dried Cheese.

“Each of these women makes her own type of Zarac. Their cheeses taste great though they have not been tested in a laboratory, nor do they have food safety certificates. The only place where one can buy them is in the local green markets after the women bring them in, or at their village houses, if one goes to visit,” he explains.

To both empower women from Majevica by taking their product to the bigger markets, and to keep the tradition of the Zarac cheese production alive, Havrex opted for the establishment of a women’s cooperative. The cooperative would unite women around the same cause and make them in charge of the production and sales.

“Together with the municipality, we have identified the first 16 women who are interested in establishing a dairy cooperative who agreed to standardize their cheeses in terms of recipe, size, shape and branding, and are willing to embark on this journey of finally taking the Zarac cheese to the supermarkets,” notes Zoran.

Fast forward

Havrex is now working on a fast track. They held their first consultancy session with the 16 women in mid-July where they discussed all the steps that need to be taken by mid-September.

“We have organized our work in several stages. Following the initial consultations, we have moved to the practical and theoretical trainings on the standardization of the Zarac cheese production and will also produce 100 production manuals. To support women and their future cooperative, we will also supply two kilns so that they can dry cheese in uniform conditions,” explains Zoran.

They will next move to obtain the food safety certificates from the relevant veterinary offices. The final two steps in the process will be the registration of the cooperative and the development of the brand, labels, and business and marketing plans.

“Our advice will be to initially produce 250 grams and half a kilo packages of cheese and make them available in selected shops only. We need to create a bit of brand recognition first,” says Zoran. “Once the cooperative grows, the quantities of Zarac cheese should become sufficient to include it on the lists of permanently available products in different supermarket chains. When that happens we will know that our efforts have paid off and that women from Majevica are taking full advantage of the cooperative way of work, while also assuring that Zarac cheese will not be forgotten,” concludes Zoran.