Syrian Women Given the Chance to Learn New Skills From Italian Farmers

Seven small-scale Syrian farmers were given new hope for a better future as they learned new skills from farming communities in Piedmont and Liguria.

Photo courtesy of ©FAO:Alessandra Benedetti
Sep. 4, 2019
By Julie Al-Zoubi
Photo courtesy of ©FAO:Alessandra Benedetti

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Nine years of bru­tal civil war in Syria have had dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences on the coun­try’s women. As hun­dreds of thou­sands of men have been killed, detained or sim­ply gone miss­ing, women have been forced to come up with new ways to sup­port their fam­i­lies as the role of bread­win­ner was thrust upon them.

Many Syrian women who saw agri­cul­ture as their only hope were hin­dered by their scant expe­ri­ence in farm­ing and a lack of access to infor­ma­tion on fund­ing and train­ing opportunities.

I want to learn from the Italian farm­ers and see how I can develop my busi­ness. If I can sell my prod­ucts prop­erly, my life will be bet­ter.- Aicha Dalati, Syrian bee­keeper who went to learn from api­aries in Italy

Last week, seven small-scale Syrian female farm­ers were given new hope for a bet­ter future as they trav­eled to Italy to learn new skills from farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties in Piedmont and Liguria.

The joint ini­tia­tive between Slow Food and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) aspired to help the women pro­vide for their fam­i­lies and grow their self-con­fi­dence as entrepreneurs.

See Also: Syrian Olive Oil News

The seven female food pro­duc­ers who took part in the study tour were from Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Lattakia, Tartous, Sweida and Al Qunatra. Each of the women pro­duced a spe­cific prod­uct in their vil­lage and these ranged from dried figs and honey to olive oil.

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All of the par­tic­i­pants either owned a tiny plot of land on which they grew food to feed their fam­ily or were engaged in activ­i­ties such as jam and pickle mak­ing or pro­duc­ing cheese to sup­port their families.

Patrizia Epifania, FAO’s pro­gram offi­cer who accom­pa­nied the women on the study tour told Olive Oil Times that the selec­tion process took into con­sid­er­a­tion sim­i­lar­i­ties between what the women already pro­duced and the types of goods pro­duced by the Italian projects they visited.

Epifania said that although the women were glad to have been selected. They had never left Syria before, hence it has been quite an intense expe­ri­ence, but they all showed enthusiasm.”

The study tour took place in Italy’s Piedmont and Liguria regions, which are renowned for pro­duc­ing and pro­mot­ing high-qual­ity organic and arti­san foods while uphold­ing local tra­di­tions. The Italian projects included extra vir­gin olive oil, high moun­tain honey, Robiola (cheese) di Roccaverano, Sambucano lamb, Vessalico gar­lic and but­ter pro­duc­tion in the high Elvo Valley.

The women were edu­cated on all aspects of pro­duc­tion, mar­ket­ing and the value chains of prod­ucts for bring­ing in a decent income while also respect­ing local food her­itage, the envi­ron­ment and biodiversity.

A small-scale olive oil pro­ducer from a Syrian vil­lage near the coastal city of Tartus vis­ited the Italian olive oil project in Liguria. She told the orga­niz­ers that she will ben­e­fit greatly from her expe­ri­ence in Italy and pledged to share what she had learned with her community.

Afaf Jafaar, a mother of five who grows and dries figs, described how she aspires to make prod­ucts that meet global stan­dards by replac­ing her archaic machin­ery with mod­ern pack­ag­ing equip­ment and new tech­nol­ogy to mea­sure mois­ture and acid­ity levels.

Aicha Dalati, a bee­keeper from Aleppo, lost all her hives dur­ing the con­flict and was forced to flee the city and start anew in a nearby vil­lage. She said that her great­est chal­lenges were expand­ing the mar­ket for her honey beyond her com­mu­nity, trans­porta­tion, and the fact that she is paid in install­ments which means she does not imme­di­ately see the profit.

Dalati told the orga­niz­ers, I want to learn from the Italian farm­ers and see how I can develop my busi­ness. If I can sell my prod­ucts prop­erly, my life will be better.”

The ini­tia­tive aimed to arm the Syrian women with both tech­ni­cal and entre­pre­neur­ial skills so that they could even­tu­ally turn their home-made goods into arti­sanal prod­ucts which would appeal to wider mar­kets. It was also part of the FAO’s pro­gram to revive Syria’s agri­cul­ture sec­tor and improve food secu­rity in the stricken country.

FAO has sup­ported Syria’s rural women pro­duc­ers and their com­mu­ni­ties in becom­ing more self-resilient by enhanc­ing their food pro­duc­tion capac­ity, devel­op­ing their entre­pre­neur­ial skills and pro­vid­ing high-qual­ity seeds and fer­til­iz­ers. They have also deliv­ered train­ing on sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture and mar­ket­ing and helped to set up irri­ga­tion systems.

FAO and Slow Food will work to pro­vide these women with oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve their prod­ucts while main­tain­ing speci­fici­ties of the con­cerned envi­ron­ments, adding value through upscal­ing qual­ity through train­ing and pos­si­bly try to improve mar­ket access,” Epifania said.

The seven women will also be added to Slow Food’s global net­work of local farm­ers in order to con­tinue their learn­ing and share their new knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence with fel­low female farmers.

As the small-scale Syrian pro­duc­ers returned home with new hope, it was also reported that olive oil pro­duc­tion in Syria is expected to be 50 per­cent higher than last year and could be the largest yield since 2013/14.

This has been attrib­uted to decreased lev­els of con­flict in the coun­try along with the recla­ma­tion of Turkish held Aleppo olive groves from which Turkey allegedly stole olives last sea­son before sell­ing the olive oil on to Europe as its own.

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