Photo courtesy of ©FAO:Alessandra Benedetti

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 more: 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.

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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