Lebanon’s women-led cooperatives are helping communities to cope with the country’ recent wave of crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial crisis, and the notorious August 2021 Beirut Port Explosion.
Al Atayeb (The Delicacies), a Lebanese women-led cooperative based in Kfardebian town, north of Beirut, specializes in producing Lebanese local and traditional food, such as citrus marmalade, fruit jam, fruit paste, and the famous Lebanese Makdous (Pickled eggplants in oil).
The 13 women who make up the cooperative each receive a share of the profits, as well as a salary, earned from their work preparing and processing the food. The local farmers who sell their crops also benefit.
“Teaching food processing skills was my way of empowering women”, says Samira Zoughaib Akiki, the chairperson of Al Atayeb. It also empowered me, given that I was surrounded by generous women with a vision”.
Ms. Akiki started out in the food industry around two decades ago, running food processing workshops and training sessions for women. This experience led her and her colleagues to form Al Atayeb as a cooperative, create job opportunities, and ensure that all members would share in the success of the enterprise.
When Lebanon’s economic crisis was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Akiki learned that UN Lebanon was providing essential support to cooperatives such as Al Atayeb.
“The UN provided monthly salaries for women to sustain their income, the oil and sugar we use to produce our food, and the jars necessary for preserving produce,” says Ms. Akiki. “This addressed our financial needs, replenishing our capital and compensated our losses: we were able to resume our activities at a time when many businesses were shutting down”.
In all, UN Lebanon has supported 94 cooperatives from different villages in Lebanon such as Deir Al Ahmar, Fneidek, Qana, Harissa, and Lehfed, with a focus on women. This support has been in the form of cash for work and in-kind support such as raw materials, equipment, and tools. At least 6,000 individuals have benefited from the $4.4 million project, funded by the German Development Bank KfW, through the UN Development Programme.
Al Atayeb cooperative has been a key factor in helping many families in Kfardebian survive the crises, making women proud of themselves and their community. “Our cooperative represents the values we believe in”, continues Ms. Akiki proudly. “We work with passion. We help our community and serve the public good”.