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Improving livelihoods one cow at a time

"Halima" is holding her daughter in the backyard of her house next to her cow and calf. Photo: Sara Hamdy/NPA

In North East Syria, people who were victims of ISIS struggle to sustain their livelihood. A program distributing fodder for livestock is bringing hope.

Written by Sara Hamdy

In the small villages in the Al-Hasakeh governorate in North East Syria, people struggle to survive. The inhabitants of these villages rely on livestock to ensure their livelihood.

“I used to feel helpless and could not afford much for my family, but my life has changed, thanks to god and each and everyone of you,” says “Fatema”, a 60 year old mother of five who received assistance through the program.

“Our monthly income is secured now” , she adds.

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"Fatema" and her cow. Photo: Sara Hamdy/NPA

Fatema’s monthly income is limited - around 25,000 Syrian pounds (50$) - and it is generated by the milk she sells from her only cow, which she depends upon to ensure the family’s livelihood. She also uses part of the milk to make cheese and butter for her family.

Although four of her children are married and live away from the household, Fatema still helps them as much as she can. At the same time, she has to take care of another of her children, who struggles with physical and mental disabilities, as well as her 75 year old husband.

Fatema’s cow is dependent on fodder. Hence, insufficient fodder could cause the cow to get sick or die, which would severely affect the family’s livelihood.

“The cow is pregnant. When the calf is born, I am going to sell it”, says Fatema. She hopes to get 150,000 to 200,000 Syrian pounds (400$).

Economic struggles

The sale of animals and milk helps sustain the basic food security, health, and school needs for many families. Others use the milk and the meat provided by their livestock to feed their families. Thus, animal-sourced foods are vital to the nutrition of millions of people. But to stay healthy, the animals need sufficient fodder and nutrition.

After the region fell under the control of the so-called Islamic State, many families lost their breadwinner in armed conflict. Most of the inhabitants of this region suffer from poverty, and because of the fighting and displacement, many have lost their livestock during the war. This has led to a deterioration of the economic situation for most of the families, and thereby their ability to provide the necessary feed for their livestock.

In addition, the fact that families can no longer depend upon livestock as a primary source of income further contributes to economic instability in the region.

An 8-month project including Arabs, Kurds and Christians

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Workers unloading fodder sacks before the distribution process. Photo: Bouchra Ali/NPA

As part of the overall response to Food Security and Livelihood (FSL) concerns in North East Syria, Norwegian People's Aid, along with its partner organisation on the ground, have supported a livelihood project in the region. The Building Resilience in a Humanitarian Crisis program has benefited 295 people through strengthening animal health by providing cow fodder and additional livestock to families. The project lasted eight months and targeted both men and women over 18 years old. The beneficiaries included Arabs, Kurds and Christians, displaced people, and people with disabilities.

As a result of the project, the cows live longer and are healthier, and produce more milk. In addition to fodder, breeding capsules were distributed, and this has resulted in higher conception rates for livestock.

A family approach to self-sufficiency

“Omnia”, a 44 year old mother of five, is a housewife and the second wife of one of the beneficiaries. Her husband provides for two families and has nine children. Omnia lost one of her family members, who was killed by ISIS in 2015.

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"Omnia" sits in front of the door to her house, converting milk into butter. Photo: Sara Hamdy/NPA

“The terrorists took my stepson’s life. Our family suffered a lot”, Omnia recounted without shedding a tear.

Her husband’s monthly income of 50,000 Syrian pounds (100$) is divided between the two families.

“The fodder we received helped us a lot. Our cow delivered her calf 3 months ago. I am using the milk to make cheese and butter for my family. We have a secured life,” Omnia said.

“We do not get what we wish for; we get what we need”, she added.

For Omnia, its now time to think of the long term:

“I will keep the calf and start selling some of the butter. There is milk everywhere, so I am planning to focus on something that only a few people sell." she explained.

"The cow is our life"

“Halima” is a housewife with two kids, a daughter and a son. Her husband, who is 34 years old, is a worker who was conscripted into the military a month ago. Halima’s cow recently delivered a calf so her income potential is increased.

“I use some of the milk to feed the calf, and some for us at home, while the rest is converted into yogurt and butter.” she said.

“The cow is our main income for the family, if not the only income now”, she concluded. “It is basically our life.”

13.03.2019 | Sara Hamdy