From milk processers to milk entrepreneurs

How one Yemeni couple is harnessing the dairy sector’s potential even in times of conflict

Jabrah, Ahmed and their 3-year-old daughter, Reem. Jabrah and Ahmed are dairy processors who have received assistance from FAO’s Enhanced Rural Resilience in Yemen (ERRY) programme to ensure that they can keep supporting themselves despite the conflict. ©FAO


It is six in the morning in the port city of Al Hudaydah in Yemen. Jabrah Ali Omara is already awake tending to her three-year-old daughter. Soon after, she settles down to her usual routine of making laban – a yogurt-like sour milk. Today she will process 180 litres of milk, purchased from her neighbours. That volume is a quantum leap compared to the 30 litres a day she was able to manage when she first started out three years ago.

“Before I got married, I used to work as a hairdresser to make money to support my parents – it was good money,” Jabrah narrates. “After I got married, I decided to help my husband in his then small business of processing dairy products.”

Yemen’s dairy sector has considerable potential. There is growing demand for dairy products yet, currently, the country’s milk production only meets one-third of domestic demand, resulting in a heavy reliance on imported milk. More than 95 percent of processed dairy items are imported, also making them expensive. The small-scale dairy sector, therefore, has great potential to improve the food and income security of rural households.

Jabrah and her husband, Ahmed, are the beneficiaries of the European Union-funded Enhanced Rural Resilience in Yemen (ERRY) programme. The joint programme was implemented by FAO, the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Food Programme. By responding to the consequences of conflict, such as lack of services, erosion of income sources, displacement from homes and loss of livelihood assets such as livestock, the programme is helping communities regain their self-reliance.

Because of improved equipment, such as refrigerators and solar panels, less milk goes to waste and more is sold at the market. ©FAO

FAO specifically helps to improve the processing and marketing of agricultural and livestock products by developing agriculture-based value chains, building skills and introducing new technologies. The programme also focuses on economically empowering rural women with employment and food security. Dairy processing is one of the main sectors in Yemen in which women work. The programme not only seeks opportunities for women to generate income but also ensures that activities are both culture- and gender-sensitive.

At the time FAO first visited the couple, they were using basic milk processing equipment. They had suffered huge losses as the sweltering heat quickly destroyed their perishable produce.

FAO provided them with solar panels, power batteries, fans, a refrigerator, stainless steel cans, filters, plastic pails and a well-equipped workplace. “The heat used to destroy the milk,” says Jabrah, “Now we just put it in the fridge!” she adds with a smile. Jabrah and her husband became more enthusiastic about their business after receiving support from the prorgramme.

While Jabrah concentrates on her daily routine of making laban, Ahmed sets out early every morning to sell the products at the nearby market. “I always tell my husband that I will be with him to grow this business and expand it together. We help each other out and I am happy,” she says.

Before the project, the couple used to borrow money often from neighbours to buy groceries or for medical care. Their situation has now dramatically improved. 

“We no longer need to borrow money from anyone. Our expenses have also reduced because we no longer pay for electricity. We have become completely independent after receiving support so now I can focus on my dreams. I want to expand my workplace and buy a machine to wrap and package the products,” said an enthusiastic Jabrah.

15.9 million people in Yemen suffered from acute food insecurity in 2018, more than any other country in the world. By prioritizing livelihood programmes that increase food and livestock production, diversify income sources and develop value chains, FAO is helping Yemeni families earn a living even in the face of conflict. ©FAO

According to the recent Global Report on Food Crises, there were 15.9 million people in Yemen suffering from acute food insecurity in 2018. This is the most of any other country globally. If it were not for humanitarian aid, over 20 million Yemenis (67 percent) would be facing severe food insecurity.

By prioritizing livelihood programmes that increase food and livestock production, diversify income sources and develop value chains, FAO is equipping Yemeni families with the tools they need to earn a living even in the face of the conflict-induced crisis. This couple’s story is just one example of the kind of livelihood interventions necessary for building communities’ resilience, especially in conflict-affected countries. A new phase of the programme that was launched in March 2019 aims to reduce vulnerability to shocks and crises for over 735 000 people in the conflict-ridden country.

By investing in family farmers, like Jabrah and Ahmed, FAO is empowering them to take action and be a part of the global goal to achieve #ZeroHunger.

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8. Decent work and economic growth, 10. Reduced inequalities, 16. Peace justice and strong institutions