La resiliencia
Manal El Ahmed, a Syrian woman and member of the Orhaneli Women’s Cooperative in Bursa. ©FAO

FAO supports agri-food cooperatives bringing together Syrian and Turkish women


Orhaneli is a rural district located on the outskirts of Uludağ 58 km from Bursa – a city that has long been a hub for migrants, including Syrians  most recently. Orhaneli is renowned for its natural beauty, which attract many tourists. The district is also known to be conservative, and women are not encouraged to work, particularly to Syrian women. 

In this context, FAO has provided support to the Orhanili Women’s Cooperative, an initiative designed to promote self-reliance and provide income-generating opportunities for both Syrian and Turkish women under the Syrian Refugee Resilience Plan. One Syrian member of the cooperative, Manal el Ahmad, underlined the importance of the initiative. “My husband would not accept me working until he understood that I would be working only with women at the cooperative,” she said

The Orhanili Women’s Cooperative was established in 2017. However, the business experienced growing pains due to a lack of knowledge, equipment and management skills. To help the cooperative become sustainable, FAO provided support to ten Syrian women and ten Turkish women through training at the cooperative. 

The support was provided under a project entitled, “Promoting self-reliant livelihoods through employment and micro-entrepreneurship,” which was implemented in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and its Provincial Directorates in Bursa, İzmir and Şanlıurfa, with funding from the Government of Japan. The project supported the establishment of micro-scale agri-businesses under the umbrella of two women’s cooperatives. Seventy-five percent of project participants gained new sources of income in the agri-food sector after participating in the project. One of the cooperatives successfully used e-commerce platforms to market their products during the challenging conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aim of the project was to gather women entrepreneurs from Syrian and Turkish communities under one roof and provide them with skills, knowledge and equipment needed to operate a business. Manal el Ahmed shared her experience working with a cooperative in Bursa. “Before the training we had many misconceptions about how to store foods. Since then we have learned how to store food using the least possible sugar and salt,” said Manal.

Irem Gulsen, President of the Orhanili Women’s Cooperative in Bursa, spoke about the challenges involved in operating a cooperative. “It would have been very difficult for us to revive this business without the support of FAO and the Government of Japan. We needed expensive equipment, training and business insights in order to learn how to manage the cooperative. With the support of FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Government of Japan, we achieved a goal in one year that would otherwise have taken ten.” Irem further emphasized that these three supporters of the project heightened the visibility of the cooperative and helped to promote trust among clients.

As with many businesses, the cooperative faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationwide restrictions meant that restaurants were unable to operate for months. However, the cooperative members quickly realized the importance of healthy food for boosting immunity and began visiting health care institutions with their products to show the value of their work in Bursa. FAO also provided further support in the form of digitalization and e-commerce training, which helped the cooperative members sell their products through online marketing platforms.

After the restrictions were eased, FAO helped organize an inauguration for the cooperative and brought together many who were involved to enjoy a traditional breakfast at the cooperative premise. The event increased the visibility of the cooperative with the welcome support of Dilara Kocak, a social media influencer, nutritionist and advocate for the Save Your Food campaign.

Following the success of this project, FAO will expand its support to cooperatives under the Syrian Refugee Resilience Plan.

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