March 8th: International Women’s Day – The case of ladies in Serbian agriculture

Women entrepreneurs in Serbia constantly work on improving themselves and their businesses. The challenges are great but so are the opportunities - We asked women leaders about them.

Biljana Božanić Tanjga
Beeld: ©Biljana Božanić Tanjga
Mrs. Biljana Božanić Tanjga leads the only rose breeding company in Serbia. She introduces herself as someone who tries to "improve everything and everyone, wherever she can – Starting with herself”.

Stemming from the roots of the socialistic republic, Serbia has a long tradition in celebrating March 8th – the International Women’s Day. The tradition of giving flowers on this day to all female colleagues and family members is several decades long. Today, the spotlight is on the achievements of women in all areas of society: from science to the household. It is day to recognize and acknowledge the hard work of all women without prejudice. It is also a day on which promises are being made that the environment for woman entrepreneurship will only improve.

Being a woman entrepreneur in Serbia means that the lady in question has worked hard to gain  knowledge in a specific area and is open to constant learning and improving. There is almost no space for a wrong business decision or a move. And on top of everything – there is a family to take care of and indulge.

Women in Serbia have secured their gender equality primarily through their political engagement decades ago. The Government of Serbia has pretty balanced gender representation but as we look toward the municipal and local levels, the gender balance is not that present. The same is true in the business sector. Ladies are at the helm of big corporative systems, financial institutions etc., but additional effort is needed for higher female presence in the SME sector.

Agriculture is a sector traditionally dominated by men. For the International Women Day, we have reached out to ladies involved in this conservative sector to ask how they manage their business “in a man’s world” and to be able to survey the situation for our better understanding and appreciation. 

Mrs. Biljana Božanić Tanjga is heading the only rose breeding company in Serbia. She graduated from the Agriculture University in Novi Sad and got her Master’s Degree in the Netherlands. After several years of studying and working in the Netherlands, Belgium and England, Biljana met with Mr. Cox, one of the owners of PhenoGeno Roses BV who offered Biljana to lead his rose breeding company in Serbia. “That was a challenge I could not resist: to implement my knowledge in the rose sector in Serbia and bring it to a higher level”, says Biljana. PhenoGeno Roses started its operations in Serbia in 2009 and twelve years later, they can be proud of their impressive breeding program.

No wonder Biljana introduces herself “as a researcher, a wife, a mother and a rose breeder – who improves everything and everyone, wherever she can – starting with herself”.

“There are not many women researchers in the flower breeding business. That makes the challenge even bigger. Our work is improving and we get compliments from all over. That is really flattering but also obliging. When I breed a new rose variety I think of a lady that will get that rose. One lady made a rose for another lady. A woman knows best what another woman likes and what makes her feel good,” explains Biljana.

Biljana is not aware of state support to this line of business and for that reason she tries to be supportive to all female entrepreneurs entering the breeding program. Social and environmental responsibility are on the top of her agenda. Her life philosophy is that each woman knows best what she needs and likes. “One should do what inspires and fulfills her soul and heart. That is the way forward and by doing so, one will contribute to their personal overall wellbeing.”

Ivana Dulic Markovic
Beeld: ©Ivana Dulic Markovic
Mrs. Ivana Dulic Markovic is a former Minister for Agriculture and Deputy Prime Minister, consultant, co-owner of a consultancy company and shares with us her experience in Serbia's private and governmental sectors.

We also talked to Mrs. Ivana Dulic Markovic, a consultant who cooperated with  the Agricultural Office of the Netherlands Embassy in Serbia on several occasions (see more here). She started her professional career as a researcher in plant virology, then she was the Minister of Agriculture of Serbia and the Deputy Prime Minister.

Today, Mrs Ivana Dulić Marković is a co-owner of the consultant company SEEDEV. Together with her colleagues, she is trying to support agro policy makers as well as farmers, in Serbia and in the region of Western Balkans, but also in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Regardless of the position she was in, she needs to be analytical, look for alternative and creative solutions to the existing problems and be ready to take risks. All these make her a perfect entrepreneur on a competitive market such as a consultancy.

“Business women in Serbia share the same business environment as any other entrepreneur. Every entrepreneur in Serbia operates in a complex and complicated business environment since the state – and society as a whole – do not recognize entrepreneurship as the essence of continued development. Serbian society is suspicious towards private business (position in a public company is much more desirable), the market is not stable, state institutions are slow and there is an overlap in jurisdictions. All this discourages creative thinking and ideas that generate profit,” explains Ivana.

She sees the support to woman entrepreneurship in the field of agriculture and food processing as indirect. “The majority of state financial support favors women entrepreneurs over men. The main result of favoring women in state support is an increase of registered businesses entities by ladies in rural and urban areas,” Ivana underscores.

Her suggestion for the improvement of the overall business environment in Serbia would be to introduce entrepreneurship as an obligatory curriculum in primary and secondary education. “By doing so, I believe we would influence the change of public values and mentality of society as a whole. We would educate as well as encourage young people to be creative, brave, search for information and respect the rights and obligations in daily business. In this fashion, we would also raise awareness to the fact that the public health system, education, culture, infrastructure etc. are all financed by the private sector,” Ivana says.

It is definitely not easy to be an entrepreneur regardless of the country one does business in. In Serbia challenges are greater than in more modernized countries. On the other hand, just as the challenges are greater, so are the opportunities.