FAO and Japan’s food processing units empower rural women

FAO and Japan’s food processing units empower rural women

09/02/2021

The crisis in Syria forced many rural women to become the only breadwinners for their families, which was a new experience for many of them. With the limited employment opportunities, these women need technical support, tools and knowledge if they are to stand on their own and generate an income. In rural areas, food production and processing are usually the best options to seek a livelihood to meet a family’s needs. 

“As a woman living in a rural area, I have good knowledge in making assorted food items from the available vegetables and milk, but I realized that my food making skills were not enough to start a business, as I lack some of the capabilities to convince a supplier to buy my products,” said Heyam AL Fattah, a 56-year-old woman residing in Tal El Shour, Homs Governorate.

Heyam’s statement is representative of thousands of rural women who urgently need to find a way to make a living in difficult economic conditions. Food commodity prices are increasing everyday due to the armed conflict and local currency inflation. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic and measures implemented to prevent the spread of the virus have restricted people’s movements, and some products are unavailable due to border closures. These factors are impacting rural families, adversely affecting income-earning opportunities and food security.  

To strengthen the livelihoods of rural women, FAO, with the support of the Government of Japan, has established eight fully-equipped food-processing units in Dara’a, Hama, Homs and Rural Damascus governorates to create job opportunities for 100 rural women. The intervention aims at empowering women and providing them with the needed tools and skills to improve their production and, therefore, their living situation.

“This processing unit is in its pilot stage. Nine women and I operate it as a one team, we discuss together how to present acceptable food items in terms of quality and variation to meet the requirements of the market,” said Heyam.

Foods produced with quality and health standards

At each food-processing unit women make seasonal food products, such as tomato paste, cheese and yogurt, pepper paste, pomegranate molasses and others. All are made in line with formal health standards, which were previously unknown to the women. The women found that meeting these standards made their products easier to sell. “As we live in rural areas, we know how to make food for our family. However, our homemade products could not compete in the market since there are standards we must adhere to,” said Heyam.

Integrated training sessions were designed for the women, who will eventually manage the processing units themselves. The sessions covered topics food safety standards, machinery operation, food-processing unit management, and sales and marketing.

Heyam and the other nine women expressed their excitement: “Today, with the skills we obtained from the training, we can guarantee our products’ quality. They are made with natural ingredients, are unadulterated, and are safe, as we make sure to follow the health standards by wearing gloves and masks.”

Moreover, the women managed to establish a positive relationship with the traders by promoting their products in the surrounding markets. The woman sent the traders food samples to examine the product’s quality. Based on the feedback the women received from the suppliers, they will work on developing ftheir products. “We have built good relationships with the traders once they visited our unit and saw how we were working; this was a great start for us,” said Heyam.

Khadija Mustafa, a 35-year-old woman, who also works at the processing unit, expressed her gratitude by saying: “It feels wonderful to earn income from my own efforts; I don’t have to wait for any assistance, besides of all that, I am able to cover my children’s essentials. I work very hard to support my daughters’ college expenses, this is a priority I am devoted to. It makes me and my daughters proud of what I do at the processing unit.” Heyam reflected that “Nothing is better than being able to buy anything my grandchildren want; it gives me the confidence and motivation to develop my skills to sustain the income.”