Inspired by Local Flavours
Enhancing Competitiveness of Women’s Food Products
In a land rich with varieties of crops, fruits and herds, Palestinian women have always been leading the food industry, as the traditional ways of making and preserving food was passed on from one generation to the next. But today, women cooperatives and associations face many challenges to put themselves and their products on the map of the formal local economy, as local products encounter the competition of manufactured foods.
- According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, female labour force participation rates remain relatively low at 19.4%, compared to 71.6% for males.
- Over 97% of Palestinian enterprises are Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). 63.5% of women-owned SMEs sell their products informally in local shops in the villages or towns where they live, while only 2.7% export their products outside the State of Palestine.
- The Export Development project, funded by Canada and implemented by UNDP, supported the development of the National Export Strategy for the State of Palestine as well as target sector strategies for olive oil; agro-processed meat; fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs; textiles and garments; tourism and ICT.
- Two initiatives have been introduced through the programme as a response to national needs, “the National First and the Palestinian Women Entrepreneurs to Export/Women and Trade Programme”. The “National First” initiative is a partnership between the Jerusalem Development & Investment Co. Ltd. (JEDICO), the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
- Over 50 Women cooperatives, associations and centres have participated in local and international exhibitions that enabled them to market their products directly and network with key market players.
Jamalat Dawod is a 38-year-old mother of five from Beit Duqu north west of Jerusalem. She has been working at the Beit Duqu Development Association for 12 years. “Our food production project aims at providing families with products that are free of preservatives and chemicals”, she says.
Together with 15 other women, Jamalat participates in making products from the local crops of her village. “We make many products, like vine leaves and molasses, plums and other kinds of preserves and jams. We also started making some dairy products, since there is a need at the village for local dairy”.
The Beit Duqu Association distributes its products to families and stores in and out of the village. Some merchants buy the dairy products, pack them and market them in other areas. To meet the high demand during the weddings season, the association increases the production of “Jameed”- hard dried yogurt - used to make popular traditional dishes like Mansaf.
Recognising the potential, UNDP partnered with the “National First” initiative, to enable Palestinian women entrepreneurs and cooperatives, especially in rural marginalized villages, to market their agricultural food and non-food products to merchants, stores, tourism hotels and restaurants in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The initiative comes as part of UNDP’s export development project, funded by the Government of Canada for the amount of USD 5.5 million. The project aims at enhancing the effectiveness of PalTrade in responding to the export development needs of Palestinian businesses, ensuring the sustainable provision of high quality export support services and increased opportunities for Palestinian firms, with emphasis on women owned businesses, in sectors with export and employment generating potential.
“We wanted to learn how to make products that cover the needs of the people in our village and surrounding areas. For that we needed to develop our production and enhance our marketing skills. Through UNDP, and the “National First” initiative, we were provided with the necessary training to improve our skills, and the machinery to develop and package our production line, which also enabled us to participate in exhibitions to present our products”.
The Beit Duqu Development Association employs 15 women, who aspire to upgrade their production processes from manual work to a small factory. They recently got their molasses production line, which raised the production level. The increase in demand will require more machines will also lead to an increase in the number of workers. “We are sometimes in short supply because of the high demand on our organic products. We even have to produce yoghurt and Jameed on daily basis.”
The project, worth around USD 10,000, provided a sustainable income for many of the women working at the association. “My work here at the association is essential, it helps me enhance my skills and personality, and the income is indispensable for my family,” Jamalat explains. Developing the food production line indirectly benefited other families, as it encouraged the farmers to plant more crops and reclaim more land. Not to forget that it put local organic products on many tables.
“Most of the women in the village want to join us. This is not far from our idea: our ambition is to expand and develop our production further to reach markets abroad, and employ more working hands”.