FAO supports agri-food co-ops for Syrian and Turkish women

Support came through a project aimed at ‘promoting self-reliant livelihoods through employment and micro-entrepreneurship’

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is supporting a co-op initiative to bring together Syrian and Turkish women help them become self-reliant and find income opportunities.

Orhanili Women’s Cooperative operates in the rural Orhanili district, near Bursa – a city that has long been a hub for migrants, including Syrians. Its natural beauty makes it popular with tourists but the FAO says there is also a great deal of social conservatism which means women are not encouraged to work. 

Syrian co-op member Manal el Ahmad said: “My husband would not accept me working until he understood that I would be working only with women at the co-operative.”

FAO is supporting the women’s co-op, established in 2017, through the Syrian Refugee Resilience Plan, giving ten Turkish and ten Syrian women training so they have the knowledge, equipment and management skills the venture needs to grow.

The support was provided under a project aimed at “promoting self-reliant livelihoods through employment and micro-entrepreneurship,” which was implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and its Provincial Directorates in Bursa, İzmir and Şanlıurfa, with funding from the Government of Japan.

This project supported the establishment of micro-scale agri-businesses under the umbrella of two women’s co-ops. Three quarters of the women taking part participants gained new sources of income in the agri-food sector, and one of the co-ops successfully used e-commerce platforms to market its products during the pandemic.

Women entrepreneurs from Syrian and Turkish communities were gathered under one roof and given the skills, knowledge and equipment needed to operate a business.

Manal el Ahmed, who worked with a co-op in Bursa, told the FAO: “Before the training we had many misconceptions about how to store foods. Since then we have learned how to store food using the least possible sugar and salt.”

Irem Gulsen, president of the Orhanili Women’s Cooperative, said: “It would have been very difficult for us to revive this business without the support of FAO and the government of Japan. We needed expensive equipment, training and business insights in order to learn how to manage the cooperative.

“With the support of FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the government of Japan, we achieved a goal in one year that would otherwise have taken ten.”

These three supporters of the project heightened the visibility of the cooperative and helped to promote trust among clients, she added.

National Covid restrictions meant restaurants were unable to operate for months, but co-operative quickly realised the importance of healthy food for boosting immunity and began visiting healthcare institutions with their products. FAO provided further support in the form of digitalisation and e-commerce training, which helped the co-op trade online.

After the restrictions were eased, FAO helped organise an inauguration for the co-operative and brought together many who were involved to enjoy a traditional breakfast at the co-op’s HQ. The event increased the visibility of the co-operative with the welcome support of Dilara Kocak, a social media influencer, nutritionist and advocate for the Save Your Food campaign.

Following the success of this project, FAO says it will expand its support to co-operatives under the Syrian Refugee Resilience Plan.