- Humulus bread - brand of Selenge -
Residents of Selenge aimag are at last getting used to starting the day with fresh humulus bread. Many of the 100,000 Selenge aimag residents, and especially the 20,000 in Sukhbaatar town are able to consume and serve to visitors fresh bread daily, baked through the hard work of many local baking families.
In fact, it is becoming a commonplace saying that ‘the smoked fish and humulus bread of Selenge are delicious.’
This success is largely due to the initiative, hard work and far-sighted determination of one woman to provide for her children.
B. Baatar, a leader of the Buyan Hishig cluster, started to bake humulus bread, and the fame of her fresh bread soon spread locally, creating a demand for the product.
With tears of pride and happiness she tells of her path to today’s success through a series of ups and downs, barriers, problems and solutions. When Baatar lost her husband, she had five children to bring up as a widow; she had to find ways to earn an income for their daily sustenance, clothing and life.
In the year 2000 she began to bake five loaves of bread a day in her home-made oven. Selling them was at first not easy; she says that sometimes she almost had to force her neighbors and relatives to buy a loaf. Though she was not trained as a baker, she was a good enough cook to bake the best and most delicious bread; the neighbors, relatives and friends need no forcing to come back for more bread, day after day.
She says that her bakery skills may well have been instinctively inherited from her Buryat ancestors. Her energy and the spread of the realization – ‘Baatar’s bread is delicious’ – was the seed for what soon became a viable business.
She adds that another secret of her bread’s success is its natural ingredient, the humulus (or hops) that grow wild in the Ohi Hundii area and is used as the yeast in the baking. Humulus is said to be healthy because it helps the action of the digestive tract and gastro-intestinal functions.
The Buyan Hishig cluster uses premium quality flour from Altan Taria, the national miller, as well as from Russia, which ensures the special quality of the humulus bread. So successful has the bread from the cluster become that the bread is no longer just called Baatar’s bread, but has become the Selenge brand of humulus bread.
Baatar says that the UNDP-funded Enterprise Mongolia 1 project, which started in 2006 in Selenge aimag, provided a key leverage for the success and expansion of the originally home-based business. By the time the business had grown so much that it needed separate premises, the children had grown and were able to be involved in their mother’s work.
They established the Buyan Hishig cluster after attending a group formation training course run by the project in 2006. By then, Baatar was running her business with her five children; two years later they were employing another five staff.
The support from project “sharpened” her business skills and she was able to obtain a loan, facilitated by the project, and increased the daily baking oven production capacity to 80 large loaves and 250 small loaves.
She also attended a variety of courses run by the project, on themes such as business start-ups; developing a business; and business planning, through which she learned the essential skills of running a viable long-term and sustainable business.
Today, Baatar’s bakery occupies premises of eight rooms, employing 14 full-time staff and baking over 1,000 loaves of four kinds of bread daily. The cluster has also established a workshop to produce pasta.
The employment of these 14 staff has improved the livelihoods of over 70 people, a very significant achievement on the path to rural poverty reduction and job creation.
Their products have been recognized by several awards for business excellence at national and local fairs, and are predicted to win many more. Not satisfied with current achievements, Baatar is planning improvements and innovations such as offering the bread in paper wrapping.
Although she is now over 60, Baatar has as much energy as the younger folk, and has a commitment to further achievement.
She says, “The harder we work, the better results we achieve.” She plainly loves and cares for her produce like a baby. “Baatar is a committed and hard-working woman, which is just marvelous,” says N. Enebish, the EMP 2 project central region coordinator.
Others in Selenge know full well that she is a very hardworking and energetic woman. There is a local saying, “Whatever seeds you plant, you will receive back.” Baatar proves the sense of the saying.
The Buyan Hishig cluster stands firmly on its own feet, and the members are looking forward to making the humulus bread a national or even international product.
Obviously, support from local decision makers is vital, but it is plain that with sufficient local support, Selenge’s brand humulus bread could well become a brand competing successfully on the national market.