Members of Turna Women’s Cooperative selling foods they have produced  at a local mall in Izmir. © FAO

Turkey | Taking agrifood cooperatives to the next level

26/10/2021

The significant contributions of agrifood cooperatives to poverty reduction, food security and improved nutrition are increasingly gaining recognition in Turkey. Inclusive agrifood cooperatives enable small-scale producers to share costs and management responsibilities and establish a meaningful bond of solidarity. Yet, agrifood cooperatives and their members often face many challenges such as the absence of entrepreneurial, managerial and training capacities, lack of market exposure and gender-based limitations. 

To support small-scale agrifood producers in Turkey, in 2018 FAO launched a series of initiatives to facilitate the establishment and management of micro-enterprises through women-led agrifood cooperatives. These initiatives were implemented within the framework of the Syrian Refugee Resilience Plan (SRRP) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and with the support of the Government of Japan. These inclusive and transformative initiatives provide Syrians under Temporary Protection and their Turkish peers with an opportunity to meet, exchange experience and collaborate on joint projects.

“Listening to our Syrian peers and learning what they went through taught us that we can find hope and overcome whatever challenges that we could face. They taught us to be resilient, strong and most importantly, optimistic about the future” said Asli Kaya, acting president of the Turna Women’s Cooperative, one of the beneficiary cooperatives in Izmir Province.

 

A customer checking one of the geographically-indicated products packed and labeled by Turna Women’s Cooperative. ©FAO.  

Food production, packaging and retail training

The sustainability of cooperatives relies on many factors, including the technical capacity of its members to produce high-quality products. Accordingly, FAO provides agrifood training on a broad range of topics, including food production, aggregation, processing, packaging, retailing and hygiene. Furthermore, to ensure that all food products are compliant with national safety standards, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry provides cooperatives with training and close guidance on compliance with quality and legal standards.

“I am thrilled to find geographically indicated products made by women from all over Turkey, packed and sold here in Izmir according to national hygiene and food safety standards” said Elcin Elgin, a loyal customer of the Turna Women’s Cooperative.

Entrepreneurship and business development support

Promoting self-reliance for vulnerable micro-scale entrepreneurs is a primary objective of the SRRP. FAO offers entrepreneurship training to build the agrifood business skills of micro-scale entrepreneurs to help them manage their businesses. The training is complemented by technical and organizational coaching by FAO with the support of the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and Forestry. 

“Thanks to the marketing course, we learned how to operate within the market, how to approach people and institutions, how to explain our women-led initiative and how to expand our market share,” said Irem Gulsen, president of the Orhaneli Women’s Cooperative, one of the beneficiary cooperatives in Bursa Province.

 

A cooperative member utilising packaging equipment provided by FAO. ©FAO. 

In-kind support

Lack of capital to invest in often expensive equipment constrains the growth of cooperatives and their sustainability. To address this issue, FAO provides beneficiary cooperatives with essential equipment to help catalyse their growth and contribute to alleviating their financial burdens. The delivered equipment included cooking and cooling appliances, packaging and labelling equipment, kitchen tools, storage solutions as well as food and beverage service equipment. 

“We especially benefited from the food packaging course and the equipment we received, as this helped us to market our products safely and confidently to customers during the pandemic,” said Asli Kaya, acting president of the Turna Women’s Cooperative.

Networking and marketing

FAO promotes beneficiary cooperatives through networking activities to support them in sustaining their business model. The networking activities include social events, traditional and social media coverage and the support of social media influencers such as Dilara Kocak, a nutritionist and advocate for the Save Your Food campaign.

“Interest in local women’s cooperatives has increased substantially during the COVID 19 pandemic, as people are actively pursuing healthier diets and better nutrition to maintain a strong immune system,” said Dilara Kocak.

Capitalizing on this momentum, FAO supported the beneficiary cooperatives in integrating digital marketing techniques to their business model, enabling them to maintain their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Children playing at the daycare facility provided by FAO to caregiving women receiving training. ©FAO.

Childcare support

In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, FAO established childcare support for cooperative members during their training period. The establishment of childcare facilities encouraged the participation of women with caregiving responsibilities, enabling them to earn an income while ensuring the safety of their children.

“Both my children and I were happy to use the childcare services at the cooperative. They even helped my children to learn Turkish,” said Manal el Ahmad, a Syrian cooperative member in Bursa.

Scaling up

Thanks to this partnership between FAO, the Government of Japan and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 80 micro-scale entrepreneurs have benefited from the cooperatives since 2018. More than 75 percent of whom secured stable incomes in 2021. 

“We believe that this project has produced two great achievements. First, it has developed the skills and self-confidence of both Syrian and Turkish women to generate income by themselves. Second, it has enhanced social interaction and cohesion between the two groups,” said Suzuki Kazuhiro, the Ambassador of Japan to Turkey.

The establishment and development of the cooperative model has been a clear success. Based on this experience, FAO has expanded its cooperative and entrepreneurship initiative to 17 cooperatives in 13 provinces under the SRRP.