Empowering rural women is key to ensuring food security

Story of Hanen Talbi, Sonia Mhamdi and Imen Chelbi

70 percent of Tunisian internal migrants are youth. With funding from the Italian Development Cooperation, FAO is addressing the main drivers of rural youth migration. ©Nikos Economopoulos/Magnum Photo


When approaching the small house, Hanen can be seen laughing with her family in the yard. Hanen is a 25-year-old biologist living in Ouled Taleb, Siliana, one of several areas in North West Tunisia that are particularly hard-hit by unemployment, low income and high rates of migration. Hanen comes from a poor rural family, who invested in their children’s education as a pathway out of poverty.

When the FAO Rural Youth Mobility (RYM) project started in the region, Hanen had an option: applying her academic knowledge to agriculture, in her homeland.

With the support of the RYM Project, Hanen has launched her own free-range poultry farming business. The project has provided her with a poultry kit, a 500 egg incubator and the necessary technical support to launch her business.

“FAO was crucial for my project. It enabled me to go from a dream, from an idea, to something concrete and real,” Hanen said. Her plan is to reinvest her current earnings to gradually expand her business. This will allow her to hire more people in her farm and support her family.

Working closely with national stakeholders, through the RYM project on youth mobility, food security and rural poverty reduction, FAO has promoted innovative pathways for decent youth employment and agricultural entrepreneurship in areas prone to migration. In particular, the project provided unemployed youth with training and equipment, helping them launch their own small agricultural enterprises, also by productively investing the remittances received form the diaspora.

Left: With the support of Rural Youth Mobility Project, Hanen Talbi has launched her free-range poultry farming business. ©Nikos Economopoulos/Magnum Photo. Right: The Rural Youth Mobility project provided Sonia with technical expertise and business management skill to launch her traditional spice business. ©Nikos Economopoulos/Magnum Photo

As Hanen and many other young Tunisian women, also Sonia Mhamdi and Imen Chelbi were considering leaving their family behind and migrating abroad in search of work, but they regained hope thanks to the RYM Project.

Where they once saw a lack of opportunity, now they see great potential.

Sonia and her family were low on income and struggling to support their three children. As part of RYM, Sonia has found a new livelihood in the manufacturing of food products and local spices for Tunisian traditional cuisine. Her little shop in Amdoun, in North West Tunisia, looks like a magical alchemic lab, scented with spices and herbs.  “FAO has provided me with the spice and chili grinder for the transformation and commercialization of local products. Now I work with my husband, my sister, and my sister-in-law.”

The RYM project provided Sonia with technical and business management skills. The project is anchored in the understanding that women and girls are critical agents in the fight against rural poverty and need not only access to skills and training but also to opportunities that allow them to become economically independent.

“With my project, I have managed to offer employment opportunities to women,” Sonia said. “When I say women, I do not mean women holding a degree, but poor women who are really in need and who are not graduates. Their only degrees are their arms and their hands.”

“Once, living in Europe was my dream. Now, thanks to FAO, my project in my village is a dream come true” - Imen Chelbi

In 2010, Imen and her family migrated to France looking for job opportunities. They lived there for seven years, before returning to their hometown. Now, Imen is standing tall in front of her one hectare field of Aloe Vera, a wonder medicinal plant, in the village of Hassi Jerbi, in South East Tunisia, another area of the country particularly prone to migration. Her passion for horse riding allowed her to discover the virtues of Aloe Vera also for equine medical treatments. 

With the support of the Rural Youth Mobility Project, Imen was able to buy and install a drip irrigation system for her field of Aloe Vera. ©FAO/Paola Termine

With the support of the RYM Project, Imen was able to buy and install a drip irrigation system for her field of Aloe Vera. She also built a laboratory for the extraction and manufacturing of oil and gel from the leaves of Aloe. Thanks to the marketing and communication skills acquired during her university career, Imen launched her own brand, Mon Aleo, which is rapidly growing and can currently count on 5 young employees, contracted periodically for harvesting, extracting the oil and packaging the final products.

Driven by her strong determination, Imen also managed to get an agreement with four foreign investors from France, who saw the value of her products. “I am happy to realize my dream in my own country,” Imen said. “I am working to change my future.”

The RYM Project, funded by the Italian Development Cooperation, was launched in 2015 to address the main drivers of rural migration of youth in Tunisia, while at the same time harnessing the development potential of migratory movements. 

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