Milk money: supporting Lebanon’s women dairy processors

Across rural Lebanon, FAO is helping women dairy producers and processors to improve standards, diversify output and increase income.

The project provided Jocelyne with dairy processing equipment to help her improve the quality and safety of her products.


“White cheese is usually [made] in special moulds, but I mould and press it with my hands,” says Jocelyne, a dairy producer and processor from rural North Lebanon. “Of course it hurts the arms,” she adds, “but we sacrifice in order to raise our children.”

Major source of income

Jocelyne, a mother of three, began raising cows and processing cheese when she married her husband 19 years ago. “I learned everything about cows from old women in the neighbourhood, and have been depending on my four cows and the products I process from them, to raise my children and pay for their education.”

The milk and dairy sector is a major source of income for poor rural communities across Lebanon. Like Jocelyne, almost 60 percent of livestock farmers depend on it for their livelihood. But widespread devastation from the war in 2006 brought the sector to its knees, as animals perished and many dairy farms were forced to shut down. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in the Bekaa Valley alone, the number of dairy cows dropped from 25 000 heads to less than 18 000 heads. Today, over 80 percent of dairy farmers are categorized as vulnerable.

“We hardly get by [and] it has been tough,” explains Jocelyne. “But since I [began] participating in this project, I am hopeful that things will become a bit easier.”

The project Jocelyne is referring to is a joint initiative between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture. Funded by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS), the two-year project targets women dairy producers and processors in the most vulnerable areas of seven Lebanese governorates: North Lebanon, Akkar, South Lebanon, Nabatieh, Mount Lebanon, Bekaa and Baalbeck. It aims to improve the quality and safety of milk and dairy products, thereby enabling the women to increase their income and get better, fairer prices for their milk, cheese and other goods, while also ensuring higher standards for consumer health and food safety.

Comprehensive training

As part of project activities, FAO conducted eight rounds of comprehensive technical training on good practices in dairy production and processing. The sessions focused not only on improving hygiene and safety, but on many other aspects of production and processing, including farm management, feeding, and animal health and husbandry.

“[Before,] we had absolutely no idea why our cows [would] get sick or [why they wouldn’t] provide more milk,” says Um Mostapha who, together with her husband, owns three cows. “But now we know [more about] how to take care of them, and they have been doing so much better.”

Trainees were also happy to learn new techniques and recipes for processing cheese. “We used to produce white cheese [before] but it was never as good as the cheese produced during the training,” says Fatima who, like Jocelyne, is from North Lebanon. “We learned how to make other products too, like sweet cream and mozzarella.”

Of the 230 participants who attended the training sessions, 150 were women. Most of the women also participated in a series of focus group discussions conducted in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), on gender-based violence, family planning and reproductive health, gender equality, rights and women’s empowerment. In addition, they received training in soft skills such as decision-making, negotiation, problem-solving, and conflict prevention.

Besides the training, the project also provided key equipment to beneficiaries and to women’s cooperative organizations.

Prior work

The project was launched in April 2016, but follows on from prior work that FAO completed to enable post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation of Lebanon’s dairy sector. From 2009 to 2015, FAO worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to support small-scale farmers in the Bekaa Valley and Hermel Akkar Uplands.

As in the current project, FAO recognized the importance of women in the sector, and specifically targeted women-headed households and farms. Among them was Georgette, a dairy producer from the village of Halba. Like Jocelyne and the other beneficiaries of the current project, Georgette and her family had struggled in the past. “We used to work for about 20 hours a day to earn enough money to survive the following day,” she said. “We sold raw milk to factories at very low prices, prices that only suited them.

But through that project, which introduced modern equipment and cooling centres to over 3 000 beneficiaries, farmers like Georgette were able to increase their production capacity by some 50 percent.

“Today, thanks to the projects, our lives have changed. I am so glad I will be able to enrol my kids in school! Now, at times, we don’t know how to meet the demands that come to us from nearby cities and the capital, as people come to us from everywhere. They like the cheese we produce.”


See also

FAO Gender: Empowering Rural Women in Lebanon through Dairy Production and Processing

FAO In Action: Milk for health and wealth - supporting small dairy producer communities in Lebanon

Resilience Good Practices: Recovery and Rehabilitation of the Dairy Sector in Lebanon