What do four single mothers do when the government unit they worked in is privatized and their jobs are eroded? In the case of these four women, they decide to grow their own business, a co-operative business.

“After the privatization of the forestry unit, we were dismissed in 1998 and it has become very difficult for us to survive,” explains D. Tsendsuren. The four linked up up with six other single mothers and together established Ur Jims, which means Fruit Co-operative, in 1998. Located in Jargalant soum (township) in the Khovd province, the cooperative is in one of the most remote regions in Mongolia, more than 1500 kilometres from the capital, Ulaanbaataar.

For the first four years the ten women worked for no salary and each contributed start-up capital to the business of 250,000 tugrugs, or about $US200. Twelve years later the co-operative’s capital base had increased to 85 million tugrugs.

Taking the best from their former careers, the women have made as their goal the reforestation of their remote region. With 90 per cent of Mongolia’s vast lands vulnerable to desertification they began with a plan to reforest one hectare of land, planting 56,000 tree saplings. Without any spare cash in the business to purchase fencing materials, they sourced scrap iron to protect their trees.

Since then Ur Jims has regenerated about 360 hectares of wasteland with more than 2.1 million saplings. In 2005 it began working on a 96-hectare piece of wasteland which it named “The Green Wall”. This piece of land has been planted with maple, plum, star anise and apple trees and raspberry bushes.

From a business which had trust as its single most important asset at its outset, Ur Jims now includes office buildings, a warehouse, a greenhouse and a fruit processing unit, as well as tractors and farm vehicles.

And – in a rarity in Mongolia – the majority of its members are still women, 32 from its total of 35.

Story originally published in “Building a Better World: 100 stories of co-operation”, Focus Publications.