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French Version

Women’s cooperative brings market success (Daily Star)

Women’s cooperative brings market success - Rural Delights turns a profit

The marketing cooperative Rural Delights has not only fostered a market-oriented approach to rural development and women’s empowerment, but has also managed to make a profit, according to Ghassan Sayah, CEO of the YMCA Lebanon.

“In 2002, Rural Delights achieved sales of $650,000 with 12 production centers and 450 women involved,” said Sayah. “For the coming three years our projected sales targets are in the order of $4 million, with an additional 31 centers and around 900 new women participants,” he added.

The project began in 1997 as part of a combined YMCA and USAID community development activity. The initiative sought to assist deprived rural women to generate both employment and income by adding value to previously unmarketed, perishable agricultural goods. “The program has had a beneficial impact on the participants’ lives,” explained Sayah. “Many who used to work only in their homes and fields with no cash remuneration now have confidence and a newfound respect from their families and communities. For the first time in their lives they have their own business, are earning money, and deciding on how to invest it,” he added.

The 100 different consumer food items of Rural Delights are totally free of preservatives, colorants and chemicals. They are available at all major retail outlets in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Sayah explained that the Agricultural Income Generation for Women project focused on three primary activities: skills training in cottage industries, the initiation of local production facilities, and the establishment of a marketing and sales unit. The result has been one of the most successful and sustainable projects of the international program.

The skills training sessions educate women on how to process fruits and vegetables through scientific, hygienic and chemical-free processes. Local production facilities were equipped and designed to maximize local know-how.

The marketing unit took charge of feasibility studies, sales, promotion, distribution, storage and quality control. It also provided technical assistance and basic training in bookkeeping and management for the different groups. “The YMCA-USAID grant covers 70 percent of the required costs, but the locals have to come up with the remaining 30 percent,” said Sayah. “USAID has granted us an additional budget of $7.5 million for the coming three years for this project,” he added.

According to Sayah, the success of the venture led to extra monetary resources from other donor agencies and international organizations, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the UN Industrial Development Organization. The Lebanese business community also provided certain services free of charge.

According to Sayah, the initiative is the first of its kind to be licensed in Lebanon. “Participants are now earning an average of around $125 per month, in addition to the social benefits of women empowerment in conservative societies,” said Sayah. “The success of the project methodology is leading to its duplication in other cooperative ventures.”

Sayah said the only way to go forward is through further expansion, broadening the impact with larger networks of both production and sales. The signing of an exclusive distribution contract between Rural Delights and DIMA (operators of the McDonald’s franchise in Lebanon) will mean over 1,000 distribution points across the country. “Our upcoming plans include a centralized lab for quality control and a centralized warehouse,” concluded Sayah. “We will also participate in three upcoming international food fairs, two in the US and one in Europe.”

Beirut 12-05-2003
Ara Alain Arzoumanian
The Daily Star

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