Reaping rewards

Meet the Syrian refugees in Turkey who are learning agricultural skills for a better future

Chilli peppers drying on a farm near Gaziantep in Turkey, a town near the border with Syria. Because of the Syrian conflict, Turkey now hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees. FAO, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Turkish Government are working together to develop the refugees’ skills so they can find jobs in agriculture – a sector that is in need of skilled workers. Vulnerable members of the Turkish host communities also learn side-by-side with the refugees, contributing to social stability. ©FAO/Barkin Bulbul


When FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience Strategic Programme Leader Dominique Burgeon met a group of Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, Turkey, earlier this month, he sat in a circle on a carpet with the refugees and heard their stories. Mostly he was told how agricultural training is helping them get better jobs, and providing hope for their futures.

“I’ve met some wonderful people who highly value their new skills, which they can use in Turkey or in Syria for those who will eventually return,” Burgeon said. “What’s more, employers are getting the skilled workers they need and are seeing increases in their productivity.”

Since 2017 FAO has provided agricultural vocational training to Syrian refugees in Turkey, and vulnerable members of the Turkish host communities. Trainees learn about cultivating apples, olives, and grapes, processing citrus fruits and chilli peppers, greenhouse vegetable production, livestock husbandry, irrigation management and much more. So far 900 people including over 400 women and 300 members of the Turkish host community across five provinces have been trained and many of those have already found jobs in a region facing a shortage of agricultural skills. Building on that success, FAO plans to develop skills through vocational training for more people and expand into new provinces.

“So far, this project has been a proof of concept on a small scale, with remarkable success as many of those trained actually found a job,” Burgeon said. “We hope that it can be scaled up this year.”

Left: Semira fled Deir ez-Zor in 2014. Without any background in agriculture, she is now learning how to harvest and process olives. “My first wish is to go back to Syria of course, but that’s not a reality at the moment”. Right: Muhammed graduated as an engineer shortly before fleeing Syria. Now he hopes to find work in agriculture. ©FAO/Barkin Bulbul

New country, new challenges

Semira fled Deir ez-Zor in Syria four years ago after her son was killed in a bombing. She now lives with her remaining children, husband, mother and grandchildren in a tent – a situation she desperately wants to change.

“When we were asked at the camp if we wanted to participate in training, I immediately volunteered,” she said. “My first wish is to go back to Syria of course, but that’s not a reality at the moment”.

“I learned about agriculture such as when to plant crops, when to harvest, when to use fertilizers and a lot more. Before I took the course I had very little knowledge of agriculture.”

The training is helping job seekers like Semira find skilled jobs in agriculture, rather than lower-paid agricultural labouring.

The Syrian and Turkish trainees also get to know each other, develop language skills and learn about each other’s cultures. Part of the training is on‑the‑job which provides an opportunity to work on local farms and in factories with local workers, further improving their language skills.

Fedan studied law in the Syrian city of Raqqa before being forced to flee. Now he hopes to use the skills he has learned in livestock management, and hopefully one day buy a farm. ©FAO/Barkin Bulbul

From training to secure jobs

Muhammed graduated with a diploma in engineering in 2013. Very soon after, the situation in Syria became too dangerous for him to stay. His family used to grow olives and pistachios in Syria, but he didn’t know how to produce them commercially.

“We have learned drip irrigation, use of fertilizers and how to trim the pistachio and olive trees to help them get air and sun," he said. "Previously we didn’t know about these techniques."

"One of our mistakes back home was that we were picking olives by hitting trees with a stick. This can affect the new offshoots for the next season, which can mean we get fewer olives.”

“I also hope that one day I can go back to Syria and teach all this to the people and farmers there.”

At the end of the training, job fairs are organized to help the graduates find work placements. Company owners are informed about rights and services provided to Temporary Protection visa holders and related legal frameworks, and graduates can meet with employers face-to-face. Many get job offers on the spot.

Fedan is from Raqqa, and is not optimistic about returning to his home town in the near future. “It will take a long time to restore the town of Raqqa, it’s completely destroyed,” he said. He would like to build a business in Turkey, and with his recent livestock training he has big ambitions to own his own farm.

“I’d never worked with cattle – I saw them from a distance back home, where I was studying law. But through this programme I’ve learned about all the aspects of livestock maintenance – milking, farm preparation, veterinary skills. We even learned how to communicate with the cows! All of this was done under the supervision of a vet, from whom I’ve learned so much.”

Above: Hear more from some of the participants in the agricultural training program for Syrian refugees and vulnerable host community members in Turkey.

Already 900 people have graduated from the training programme, and many are already working in the agriculture sector. In 2018 FAO will organize training programmes for an additional 650 people, awaiting additional resources to bring it to scale.

This project is funded by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Government of Japan, and is implemented in partnership with Turkey's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock and in collaboration with the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), the Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

In the context of FAO’s Syrian Refugee Resilience Plan 2018, FAO in Turkey aims to enhance the resilience of 45 000 Syrian refugees and Turkish host community households (approximately 226 000 people).

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2. Zero hunger, 10. Reduced inequalities, 16. Peace justice and strong institutions