Reversing the East-West Brain Drain with Tractors and Cabbages

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Andrii immediately recognizes it among dozens of other tractors in the warehouse. He jumps in the chair, adjusts it to his height, jiggles the keys and sets off on a lap of honour with a big grin on his face.

He’s just taken possession of his very own tractor – the same model as he used to operate in Poland, but this one is all his.

He’s back in Ukraine, and he’s the boss.

A recent report by the Centre for Eastern studied estimated that about 900,000 Ukrainians had migrated to Poland by the end of 2017.

Andrii left when he was 24, and after a few short-term jobs he started work at a farm growing Chinese cabbage. “We grow a lot of the stuff where I come from”, he says. “One newspaper even called western Ukraine ‘cabbage land’!”

The cabbages may have been familiar, but the business was completely new: the working processes, fertilization, the treatment of seedlings for diseases and pests — all the small things that help to achieve a significant increase in yields.

“In Ukraine people get about 25 tons from a half a hectare, but in Poland they get nearly twice that”, says Andrii.

For two years, Andrii not only got acquainted with agronomic tips and tricks, but also learned how to drive a tractor. When his boss went on vacation, Andrii took charge of the team of ten, getting valuable managerial experience.

He was on the point of signing up for a third year in when he chanced on an internet announcement for an IOM project. “It said that every fifth labour migrant was interested in investing in a business back in Ukraine. And I immediately thought ‘this is about me! I will be able to grow the same cabbage, but in my own fields’”.

He filled in the form right away, and over the next two months he communicated with a business consultant via Skype, finding out the nuances of financial reporting and taxation, calculating risks, and drawing up a business plan. Then he had the nerve-wracking task of presenting his dreams to IOM.

"Even the walls of the office where the business plan defense took place were transparent, made of glass," smiles Andrii. "I thought there would be loads of difficult questions, but I just told them everything I knew about growing Chinese cabbage and described my plans – that was it."

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the IOM project operates on a "1+1" basis: for each dollar of their own funds invested, participants receive another dollar as a non-refundable grant, up to USD 4,000.

"I am very happy for Andrii," says Ali Chabuk, IOM's project manager working on economic empowerment of migrant workers and their families. “He’s not just investing money, he’s investing the experience he gained in Poland. And now by developing a business in his native village, he will create new jobs in his community.”

Brain drain. Reversed.

By Anna Pochtarenko, Communications Assistant at IOM Ukraine