This Social Co-operative was initiated by Notar Zoltan an entrepreneurial Roma who invested 2 million HUF of his own money and raised an interest free micro-loan and support from the Polgar foundation who bought the 5.5 Hektares of land which they then rented to the Co-op.
Igrici, 25km south of Miskolc, has 600 Roma inhabitants with 99% unemployment. Here the local municipality supports the Roma initiative (makes a change – unlike Sajokaza) and those who want to work by paying their social benefit support to them even though they are earning a wage as a way of helping them back to work.
Begun in March 09 this year, the Co-op is now so successful that it aims to pay off the initial loan by August and rent the land for a further 5 years.
The project employs 40 people, both Roma and non-Roma , 75% women. Older women are also employed on light duties sorting sacks.
The work is seasonal, seven days a week. The workers start the day at 5 am, have a half hour for breakfast and for lunch, and work sometimes as late as 10 pm. They are paid 300 HUF (1 Euro) per hour!!!
We were assured that the atmosphere is good, without any confrontations just like relations between Roma and non-Roma in Igrici village itself where everybody gets along just fine.
There is a secure market for the produce. The Co-op has contracts with a canning factory and private greengrocers.
The cucumbers are started off from seedlings which are bought in, watered from a specially drilled well 60 m deep and fed calcinite and ammonium nitrate fertiliser (non-organic!)
Zoltan spent a year setting the project up, raising the money none of which came from the region.
Now that the project is successful it is being held up as a model of good practice, not only as a growing project but as an example of good relations between the Roma and non-Roma in this part of Hungary. Future visitors are to be the Czech Prime Minister and the leader of the European Economic Committee!
Plans for the Winter include work chopping firewood, making bricks, a bakery and self-help shop in the village. In 2010 they hope to diversify with the help of a grant from the National Development Agency into paprika and tomatoes. The profits will be put into secondary education.
Zoltan says Roma self-help is the only way out of the mess they currently find themselves in - stuck between the money lenders and destitution.
Sajokaza Women's Committee plus a man with Zoltan far right.