Sowing the Seeds of Cooperation: Refugee Workforce Steps in for Agriculture Sector
With the financial support of the European Union, FAO brings together the private sector and the refugee community to provide employment opportunities in the agriculture sector. The €10M project also helps 13 women cooperatives in 10 cities in Türkiye through trainings, workshops and facilities renovation.
Photos & Story: Berna Çetin
If the smell of strawberries means happiness and joy for you too, this place is filled with happiness and joy... As we entered the small shop of the Soma Woman Agricultural Development Cooperative in Manisa, that is the smell that greeted us first. It is one of the products that women of Soma produce among many other delicious food products.
The project is called “Promoting Resilience Through Improved Livelihoods”. With the financial support of the EU, FAO Türkiye supports 13 cooperatives in 10 cities. The primary goal is to implement capacity building programs for existing cooperatives and support business development using innovative cooperative practices.
“WE WALK FROM THE DARK TO THE LIGHT”
The journey of the Soma Woman Agricultural Development Cooperative started when a big explosion in the coal mine hit the town in 2014. Many lost their loved ones. That is when the women of Soma decided to produce and create income to support their families. Fatma Ozkal who is in charge of marketing, says “We walked out of darkness and into the light.”
Their 4 year journey took a turn for the better when they met with representatives from the Provincial Agriculture Directorate. Sinem Ozturk, Erkan Balik, Mevlut Yenilmez informed them about a project that they have with FAO. Sinem Say, the head of the cooperation, tells the story as we taste various jams and sweets that are produced by 26 women who are members of the cooperative: “We had experience in crafts and textile, with this project we learned about agriculture too. It was our goal, it helped us achieve it easier and faster. We renovated our facility, started producing gluten-free food products. We visited families, mukhtars; convinced women to come work with us. We started a big change in Soma that it never faced before. When most of these women first came, they could not even speak because they were too shy; some came with their kids or relatives, did not want to be alone. Now they are very ambitious, they come up with ideas, and build their self confidence.” The board of the cooperative received trainings about management, finance, marketing, advertising, e-commerce and branding. The members on the other hand enjoyed on-the-job trainings in the field and farms.
“I BUILT MY BUSINESS WITH REFUGEES”
The €10M project also provides trainings to refugees and host communities so they can have access to the private sector in agriculture. Dilek and Nusret Yıldız who own a 3M Food company are one of these business owners who employ refugees. “Honestly our story started 4 years ago and I built my business with refugees” says Nusret Yıldız. “We export canned stuffed leaves to USA, Canada, Greece, most of the Middle Eastern countries. I have 160 workers, 120 of them are Syrians. Because of the nature of the product, we have to work in around the clock and Syrian workers are OK with day/night shifts too. We are planning to increase our capacity to 1000 tons this year and I am sure we will achieve this goal together with them. We have different cuisine, music and traditions but we attend each other’s wedding ceremonies and adjust the music and food; we get along easily.”
I ask what is the biggest benefit of the project, Dilek Yıldız replies “We would have had to decrease our production capacity, we could not have afforded hiring that many people. We got work permits for the refugee workers and their social security fee was paid under the project for 6 months. Our Turkish workers also received training and we participated in those to select the workers. ”
Delal is 19, she is one of 6 siblings in the family, the other 4 also work in the same factory. After living in Şanlıurfa and Ankara, the family moved to Manisa. She is happy to work here. “If I didn't work here, I would sit at home and watch TV. Instead, I am here making friends and earning money. I feel safe because I work legally, my social security is issued under this project.”
Eren Doğan is the manager of the company Yilmazlar Tarim that benefited from the project. “I had not worked with refugees before this project. We hired everyone who participated in the trainings –hygiene, language, vocational education. We were struggling to find workers to work in the factory before this project. I am happy with their ambition, their improvement. This is a spot-on project that helps our business with the trained workforce we need, and refugees can work legally thanks to the support on covering the social security fees of the workers.”
The project aims to reach both Turkish and Syrian people. So far nearly 3000 beneficiaries received vocational trainings in herd management, vegetable and olive production, bakery, packing and packaging, viticulture.
1500 beneficiaries have completed Farmer Field School (FFS) activities in olive, pistachio and strawberry production; small ruminants care and herd management; production greenhouse cultivation.
Almost 1000 Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi and Iranian people have completed Turkish language trainings.
Nearly 1500 Syrian beneficiaries have completed or working on Agricultural Skill Development Programme (ASDP) activities in 10 provinces. More than 1000 beneficiaries were granted with work permit exemptions.
The project continues in 10 cities to bring new opportunities to people and improve their capacities and feel self-confident. Isn’t it sometimes a little push that we need in order to take a step forward? And perhaps the smell of strawberries to bring us joy?