In March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout Europe and the world, the US Embassy in Montenegro identified the need to help NATO ally Montenegro grapple with the second- and third-order effects of COVID-19.
Montenegro is a key partner and ally for many reasons. Formerly part of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, it lies in the Western Balkans and is seeking membership into the European Union. However, it is a target of Russian misinformation and propaganda and also receives major attention from China through its “Belt and Road” Initiative.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, US servicemembers and diplomats at the US Embassy worked with Spirit of America’s European Regional Program Manager Colleen Denny to respond in the most effective and impactful way. Using Spirit of America’s model of supporting local solutions to local problems, Spirit of America and the US Embassy teamed up with two local Montenegrin NGOs, Paradigma and the Regional Development Agency Bjelasica, Komovi, Prokletije.
Together, they developed the Montenegro Seed Project 2020 to tackle food security issues that arose from COVID-19. Spirit of America provided $20,000 as a venture-capital injection of funds to prove the concept of using agricultural assistance to sustain families in vulnerable rural communities.
As a result, 68 farming and rural tourism families throughout northern Montenegro received almost 30 types of locally sourced seeds, including:
- 6,000 kg of potato slips
- 1,400 kg of onion sets
- 670 kg of grains
- 24,000 pepper seedlings
- More than 50,000 other vegetable seeds
US Ambassador to Montenegro Judy Rising Reinke has visited some of the families who received seeds and spoken about how this project is a way to demonstrate tangible American partnership. The ambassador said, “This is what the US-Montenegrin partnership looks like.”
So far, with one-third of the families reporting, over 6,500 pounds of food harvested from these seeds has been donated to public kitchens, children with special needs, and neighbors.
Since Spirit of America implemented this project alongside the US Embassy and the local Montenegrin NGOs, the US Embassy allocated approximately $130,000 to take this project to scale through the COVID-19 Montenegro Food Security Project.
The Montenegro Seed Project is a great example of how Spirit of America develops, tests, and validates innovative solutions that have an immediate impact and influence broader US government investment. Spirit of America’s entrepreneurial approach saved US taxpayers money in testing the project, provided an incremental first-step solution for a food security risk in a NATO ally country, and increased Montenegrin public support for the United States and the West.