Turning bounty into business at a Turkish women’s cooperative
On the outskirts of Eldivan, central Turkey, a gravel road leads to a set of small modern buildings skirted by pastureland. The buildings are covered in solar panels. This is the home of the Eldivan Women’s Cooperative.
Inside the building, a dozen women are at work rolling and cutting dough. The makarna (pasta) will be dried and packaged to sell at local markets under the Külçe brand.
Because all the ingredients they use are local, the winter is spent preparing dry goods, like pasta, tarhana (a traditional dried soup), and manti (ravioli). But in the summer, when the produce is high, they also make seasonal jams, pickled and canned vegetables, dried tomatoes and fruits, and vinegars. All of the women members have land where they grow their produce, which they sell to the cooperative.
The cooperative is a relatively new organization, established in 2016 by local women.
- 50 women are now cooperative members.
- In their first 9 months, they sold nearly US$7000 in products.
- The cooperative's solar-power produced 6,760 kWh of electricity and saved 3,115 kg CO2.
- The women and the cooperative earned a Small Carbon Hero Award from Turkey’s Sustainable Production and Consumption Association.
Gülendam Çakici was one of the founding members. Her dream was to study law. Even though her father encouraged her learning, she chose not to attend high school.
“I didn’t want to wear my older sister’s school uniform, so I refused to attend high school,” she says mischievously.
In the years since, Gülendam has proven she is capable of handling anything. She is a certified honey producer and grows organic strawberries in the highlands. At home, she grows a multitude of fruits and vegetables in her garden.
When the opportunity came up to participate in a business training, she signed up immediately.
“I have taken care of my family for many years, and now it’s time to build something for myself,” she says.
The training was part of a New World programme on green economy, implemented by the local organization TEMEV (Clean Energy Foundation), as part of a partnership between UNDP and the Coca-Cola Foundation. The idea was to give local women an opportunity to create their own business, and to do it in a way that can stand on its own.
Only a few women participated at first, but they became the backbone of the cooperative.
Fatma Çorak is one of those women. As she suffers from multiple sclerosis, she didn’t think she would be able to manage being part of it. But after testing it out, she quickly got to work. She is highly skilled and managing everything now.
“While working, I forget about my illness,” she notes.
While the women received trainings, New World and the Eldivan municipality built a production facility, powered by solar energy. Rooftop-mounted solar panels meet the energy requirements of production. The women dry their fruits, vegetables and pastas in a solar drying kiln, which was designed and manufactured by the project. And a solar hot water collector and solar cooker were provided for washing and cooking the produce.
To date, the solar panels have produced 6,760 kWh of electricity and saved 3,115 kg CO2. And the cooperative recently received a Small Carbon Hero Award from Turkey’s Sustainable Production and Consumption Association (SPCA).
New World helped the women legalize their cooperative and create and register the trademark for their distinct brand: Külçe. To inspire the women, study trips were organized to other local makers of traditional products. There, they could get information, watch production, and discuss approaches with other women businesswomen.
The women have had a fruitful year: two tons of tomato paste, 640 kg traditional noodles, 600 jars of jam, and 130 kg dried tomatoes. The fruits of their labour have earned them nearly US$7,000. Now they are in talks with the municipality to open their own café and sales outlet at the bazaar.
The cooperative has grown from seven to fifty women. Gülendam and Fatma are Chair and Deputy Chair, respectively. They are proud of their work and enjoying their independence. Gülendam is still fond of law though. Her goal is to be the first woman mayor of Eldivan someday.