Dreaming of dairy farms: Bringing agricultural skills to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley
20 October 2022
Anwar Nour Al Ammouri had an idea to help make ends meet and support her family in her home town of Nassryet in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where much of the country’s agricultural production is concentrated. But turning her dream of establishing a small dairy farm into reality was easier said than done.
Then Al Ammouri found out that ILO and its implementing partner AVSI Foundation, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, were holding a competency-based training course in the area. The course was funded by the PROSPECTS Programme , a four-year global partnership which supports host communities and displaced populations in eight countries across East and North Africa and the Arab States. The joint partnership, which is supported by ILO, the Government of the Netherlands, the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank, UNHCR and UNICEF focuses on three key pillars: education, employment and protection.
Al Ammouri decided to apply for the course with the hope of gaining the skills she needed to become a dairy farmer.
“I heard from my family here, in the village of Nassryet, about a training course in dairy livestock farming. I loved the idea, as I was already thinking of buying cows and starting milk production myself,” Al Ammouri said. “Milk has become very expensive, and I thought: ‘why not buy cows and establish my own business?’”
Al Ammouri was joined by other trainees from the area who attended a 10-week programme dedicated to both practical and theoretical instruction. Following this, students registered with private business owners for an on-the-job training (OJT) experience in either local dairy livestock farms or agricultural machinery businesses.
Recent high-school graduate Abdullah Mohammed Tarshishi was another trainee who completed the course, which also covered agricultural machinery repair and maintenance.
“During the ten week-period, we learned how to fix agricultural machinery, clean the equipment and identify mechanical issues and quickly fix them,” he says.
A total of 103 Lebanese and Syrian trainees graduated from the training course after being selected based on their agricultural experience and background.
“The goal of this training programme was upskilling for those who were already working in these fields to improve their qualifications, re-skilling for those who were new to the sector, and skilling for the people who were new to the labour market,” said ILO PROSPECTS National Skills Officer Nassim Njeim.
Ahead of the course, ILO PROSPECTS carried out a training-of-trainers programme for the training coaches. These were tutors already working with the Ministry of Agriculture who learned about the new training model and its core objectives. The Ministry will thus be able to sustainably implement the training course across local agricultural schools in the future.
“Through this programme, we are trying to reach a level that ultimately allows the students to have a business,” said Ministry of Agriculture trainer Mahdi Ayoub. “Thus, we focus on the coverage of both the theoretical and practical aspects of the students’ education throughout the course. Through the practical component, they get the chance to consolidate the knowledge they acquired during the theoretical classes.”
Amal Mohammed Omar Zakkan is a farm worker from Syria who participated in the training course and is now employed in a farm in Nassryet.
“We learned many things: how to treat a cow if its udder becomes inflamed, to understand why a cow doesn’t eat, how to measure its temperature and how to heal it. The experience of the on-the-job-training at the farm was better, as we could see things with our own eyes and learn about them in practice, not only with words.”
Hussein Abdel Al Hossi, another trainee from Syria, agreed. He has been working in the same local farm for the past seven years, after leaving his native country during its 11-year-long war and finding sanctuary in Lebanon. Hassein now dreams of opening his own business following the new training.
“The topics I’ve learned the most from during the course are disinfection and cleaning, and how much the cows and their calves should eat. I will use this new information at the farm I am currently working in and in my own farm in the future, God willing.”
Local farm owner Ali Melhem Tarshishi explained how workers on his farm gained important knowledge from the training programme.
“Our workers who joined the training learned many things during the course that they didn’t know about before, or that we hadn’t taught them correctly, especially regarding the final phase of the milking process, how to handle the cow and the calf and how to cure them in case of diseases,” Ali Tarshishi said.
Trainee Abdullah Mohammed Tarshishi said the programme made him optimistic about the future despite the multifaceted economic crisis the country is facing.
“This training changed my ideas about the future. I gained experience in a new sector, not only in the agriculture one, but also in the mechanical field,” Tarshishi says “Our area is an agricultural one. I learnt how to use diesel machines, tractors, and agricultural equipment in general. This is very useful amid this crisis as it opens multiple job-related doors.”
Anwar Nour Al Ammouri was proud of receiving her final certificate when she attended the graduation ceremony with her husband and new-born baby girl. She said she’s confident that realising her dream of establishing a dairy business is within reach.
“I will now buy two cows, and establish a small farm,” she said. “My husband was my fundamental support. He was the one who stayed home with the children most of the time while I attended my training course classes. It wouldn’t have been possible without his support.”
This story was previously published by ILO Lebanon. Editorial support provided by the UN Development Coordination Office.
For more information on the UN's work in Lebanon, please visit: Lebanon.un.org.