Syrian and Turkish women build a cooperative business – and self-confidence

Economic opportunities exist, but with risks

©FAO/Safak Toros


For many Syrian refugees in Turkey, the food and agriculture sector is an entry point into the Turkish economy because of the sector’s prominence in areas hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, particularly in the south-eastern provinces and large cities, such as Istanbul and Izmir. Many of them are engaged in agricultural labour and micro-scale food businesses to make their living.

However, most of these opportunities are informal and seasonal, which often expose them to poor working conditions and low and irregular wages. This can also lead to lower wages for workers in local communities who are hosting them, fueling competition and social tensions. Limited access for women to property, equipment, and entrepreneurship opportunities is a significant challenge to starting their own businesses.

FAO conducted market assessments and identified agrifood products which have strong and stable consumer demand in local markets. In close collaboration with local stakeholders, FAO assessed the feasibility of small-scale joint production cooperatives by Syrians and Turkish women. Cooperatives by and for women can offer particular opportunities for them to control their own economic activities, especially in situations where women face social and cultural constraints.

Based on the assessment, in March last year, FAO launched the project “Promoting self-reliant livelihoods of Syrian refugee and Turkish host communities through entrepreneurship in food and agriculture” in Izmir, Sanliurfa, and Mardin provinces with financial support from Japan. Participants were trained in food safety, production, and finance and management.

The cooperative is named Turna, meaning crane in Turkish, a symbol of peace and hope that originates from a Japanese legend. ©FAO/Safak Toros

Cooperative named for a crane – a symbol of peace and hope

In Izmir, the project supported 20 Syrian and Turkish women in establishing a cooperative for producing midye dolma (stuffed mussels), a popular food nationwide. Historically, Izmir has a special reputation in its production. The cooperative is named Turna, meaning a crane bird in Turkish, a symbol of peace and hope that originates from a Japanese legend.

The all-women cooperative ensured that the stuffed mussels fully met quality and safety standards. “We buy mussels from certified local farms, produce stuffed midye dolma hygienically, and supply them to the market,” said Derya Davaz, leader of the cooperative. “Our goal is to attain a position in the local market in this way.”

The cooperative found buyers from local restaurants and retailers and started to sell their product in 2019. Buyers who purchased small lots in the beginning increased their order volume as they realized the quality of the product. As of February 2020, the cooperative sold on average 500 kg of stuffed mussels every week.

Derya Davaz, leader of the cooperative. ©FAO/Safak Toros

Building a business also builds women’s self-confidence

“Cooperative members are gaining self-confidence through interactions with buyers, producers, authorities, and other stakeholders. This will help Syrian women to be more adaptable in Turkey,” noted Keigo Obara, FAO food security officer.

“I am very happy to be part of this cooperative. We are not only enjoying new friendships with Syrian women, but also exploring new opportunities – in business and in building self-confidence," Derya added.

“There were cooperative colleagues who could never be part of any community without being accompanied by family members because they were not confident enough. Now they have changed a lot! Some learnt financial skills, some started to make first decisions in their family on different domestic issues, and me – I am paying off my studies in the university without any relative support.”

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