From lavender fields to women’s cooperatives

International Day of Rural Women celebrates women of Anatolia who are standing for zero poverty and inequalities

©️FAO/Fazıl Düşünceli


The fifteenth of October is the International Day of Rural Women. This is a day to recognize that women’s empowerment and gender equality can lead to better lives, better production, and a better environment for all. One such story is that of how Hilal and Emine created a lavender agribusiness cooperative to improve their lives and livelihoods.

Hilal Kos and Emine Karakoca are two proud women from Adana, a city in south-eastern Türkiye. It’s the last of the lavender harvest now, and with 20 other women all from rural families with limited economic resources, they are working hard to get the crop in on time. Yet none of them are there as part of seasonal, unpaid, or family workforce, which are the conditions around the globe under which many rural women work. Instead, they manage themselves with the Tapaneli Women Farmers’ Cooperative, an “all women-run cooperative,” supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Adana Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and Forestry.

Making dry land flourish

Hilal’s grandmother calls her the voice of the women in their village. Now known as “The Lavender Valley,” Adana was once unfertile and arid. Now, thanks to the determination of the women who founded the cooperative, the valley now blooms and produces, processes, and markets lavender.

The solidarity of these women in Adana seems to have paid off this time.

The Adana Tapaneli Women Farmers’ Cooperative was founded five years ago by three women, eager to develop sustainable livelihoods on their ancestral lands. The cooperative was established first to combat drought that severely affects rural communities in the region, and which makes lavender production an increasingly popular option for a viable alternative crop in dry areas of Türkiye. The cooperative is not only involved in the production and trade of the plant, but it also markets some products such as lavender tea, oil, honey, marmalades, cologne, and bouquets, thanks to proper machinery, equipment, and training at the cooperative’s premises.

“I am the president of the cooperative” says Hilal with a big and proud smile. “We have 20 members, out of which 15 have lavender gardens on their own lands,” she adds while closing off the day’s accounts and calculating the amount of the lavender they have produced this season.

“I’ve learned to produce and earn money jointly with other women in the cooperative; and I'm happy now,” says Emine proudly, a fellow villager and member of the Tapaneli Cooperative. She’s been working since age 13, often as an unpaid child laborer in agriculture. Now she is able to make a living and take care of her family. Emine claims that she has increased her awareness on the importance of equality between men and women and of standing on her own feet, thanks to her job at the women’s cooperative.

Hilal and Emine; ©️FAO/Nese Cakir

“I lost my father at the age of four. While I was still growing up, I had to take care of my family and three siblings,” she adds. Her life changed when she met Hilal and the Tapaneli Women Farmers’ Cooperative. Emine joined the cooperative’s trainings on lavender production, packaging, and marketing. “Because in my work I use my knowledge, I can make my own decisions.”

After the cooperative became operational, women farmers of Adana quickly recognized that it could support more women. The business grew quickly and from just three employees in the first months they increased to 20 members and can hire up to 40 women in peak season.

“At first, of course, we did not receive much support from our environment,” Hilal continues, implying the barriers that women across the globe face every day. “When we wanted to establish a cooperative, they brought up bad examples,” she added. “I said that there were no women in these cooperatives and I insisted that we remain an agricultural development and women-oriented cooperative.”

Getting the help needed 

Thanks to FAO’s technical expertise and support in developing inclusive rural policies in underdeveloped regions, the Adana Tapaneli Women Farmers’ Cooperative trained rural women in business planning, financial management, networking, marketing and sales, and time management. FAO also provided necessary tools, equipment, and technical support services to women to support them in starting small-scale businesses and production.

©️FAO/Nese Cakir

The cooperative has enabled many successes but better market access is still needed to ensure sustainable income for these families. In response to this need, FAO conducted market assessments in Türkiye to identify agrifood products with a strong and stable consumer demand in local markets and assessed the feasibility of small-scale joint production cooperatives.

“Our aim here is not just income generation” says the District Governor Vahit, while planting lavender seedlings for the next season. “We aim to create a pathway to sustainable development in all aspects. We want to create an enabling environment in this land where we can all prosper while respecting the nature and each other,” adding that thanks to the cooperative and the lavender fields, the province has become a tourist destination.

“People are coming to our village to see the lavender valley and how this woman-led cooperative changed the fate of these lands,” Vahit concludes.   

The solidarity of these women in Adana seems to have paid off this time.

More stories like those of Hilal’s and Emine’s are expected due to a new project called “Leaving no one behind: Greater involvement and empowerment of rural women in Türkiye and Central Asia.” Under the FAO–Türkiye Partnership Programme on Food and Agriculture, this new initiative will work towards the elimination of gender-based discrimination and exclusion in rural areas of Türkiye, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, by providing learning and income generating opportunities. In Türkiye, jointly with the Ministry of Agriculture, the project will support the establishments of three pilot gender equality units at districts in at least three provinces. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the focus will be on building knowledge of decision-makers to formulate and implement policies and projects that are based on evidence and sound gender analysis. The project will also bring together beneficiaries of all three countries to share their good practices and lessons learned on socially inclusive agrifood systems and women’s empowerment in rural areas.

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1. No poverty, 5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth