Breaking bread

A Turkish female farmer transforms tensions in her village into bread-winning opportunities

"My dream is to ensure that no vegetables from the fields of Yolu farmers are left uncollected or unused." ©FAO


Naile lives in a small Turkish rural town called Yolu, situated in the district of Suruç, Şanlıurfa province, a few kilometres from Syria. From afar, she used to watch her neighbours in Kobani, Syria, through the wire mesh of the border fence. With her neighbours she shared the Kurdish language and a love for the soil. However, when the war hit Kobani, hundreds of Syrian refugee families fled to her small town, resulting in tensions over cultural differences, resources and, of course, employment.

After her husband lost his job due to the increasing presence of an excess cheap workforce, Naile, who was pregnant at that time, had to seek employment in seasonal agriculture – where the daily rate for women is lower – in order to support her family.

Naile's life became very challenging. She had to juggle her agricultural work in greenhouses and fields with raising five children. At this point, she and her husband decided to rent a small patch of land in the village to grow vegetables. Unfortunately, they both lacked adequate experience and knowledge, and their experiment initially failed: the return on their investment was insufficient to meet basic needs, or to invest in fertilizers or pesticides.

However, at this point a new opportunity completely transformed Naile's situation. She was selected for an FAO training programme that not only changed her prospects, it fundamentally altered her perceptions about people from other cultures.

As Naile explained: "When the war started we thought that we would have to share our bread with the Syrians, but thanks to FAO, the Şanlıurfa Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and Forestry, and the project donors, we now have more bread to eat and to share with others."


A new window of opportunity

In 2019, Naile and a number of others were selected to receive vocational training under a new project by FAO, with the support of UNHCR, in partnership with the Şanlıurfa Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and Forestry. The project combined theoretical and practical training in proven agricultural techniques used to grow peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.

During the practical training in farms and greenhouses, Naile was exposed to a variety of techniques and new technologies that helped her learn new skills that she could apply to her small piece of land. In addition to upgrading her knowledge, Naile worked with Syrian agricultural workers – an experience that changed her views about the community. Not only did she gained new skills from them, she also acquired a greater understanding of their lives.

"The difficult working conditions of the field and the greenhouses united us," Naile explained. "We understood and accepted each other better because we had passed through the same difficulties together." Naile also made Syrian friends during the training sessions, and together they "became one family, eating and chattering together at the same table."

Naile and her husband also benefited from another FAO project in 2020, funded by the European Union, which aimed to build resilience and socio-economic integration between the Syrian refugee population and Turkish host communities. During the project, Naile and her husband attended a Farmers Field School for a period of three months to learn from technical experts, trainers and fellow farmers.

"My favourite part of the training was the step-by-step guidance we received from our trainers, both theoretical and in the field," Naile explained. "It has given us an entirely different perspective on agriculture."

Hard work pays off

Emboldened by their new technical knowledge, Naile and her husband applied for and were granted a loan from the bank to rent 5 hectares of greenhouses and open fields. In addition, the Provincial Directorate helped them with technical assistance and support to install the greenhouses. Their expanded business allows them to grow peppers and cucumbers in the greenhouse and to cultivate zucchini, eggplant, pepper and cotton in the open fields. In addition to her children who have different roles in this business, Naile hired 25 people, most of whom have acquired vocational practical training at her greenhouses. Out of them, 10 are Syrians and 19 are women.

"The difficult working conditions of the field and the greenhouses united us," Naile explained. ©FAO

The negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted both Naile and her fellow farmers, who all experienced a drop in sales. To counter this problem, Naile joined forces with fellow Syrian and Turkish food producers, and is now planning to establish a cooperative to sell agrifood products from her town.

"My dream is to ensure that no vegetables from the fields of Yolu farmers are left uncollected or unused," she said.

Naile hopes that the support she has received will continue, allowing her to establish the cooperative and hire more people.

"Once I realize my dream of the cooperative, I'll have other, bigger dreams to pursue," she said.

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5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth