Inside a greenhouse full of seedlings, Nadia Ahmad is busy picking cucumbers, she works as a daily laborer to support her family. Ahmad, who hails from the village of Atshan, a few kilometers from the project, works together with her sister. She feels relieved that this project has provided them with a job opportunity in light of the difficult living conditions. “The project gave me an experience in agriculture. Thank God, we are comfortable here,” Ahmad said. She added, “Now, I am a little hopeful that by working here, I will be able to make a living on my own.”
The “Damsal Greenhouse” project was launched in 2015 and covers a large part of the needs of the local market for vegetables, especially in winter. The project is a unique experience, the first of its kind in northeastern Syria, as it provides the local markets with the needed amount of vegetables, in addition to the fact that it empowers and improves the self-reliance of women, according to its supervisors.
Damsal is a Kurdish word for the four seasons of the year and refers to growing vegetables and securing them throughout the year.
A few meters from the greenhouses, Fatma al-Ali, from the village of Gire Merki, in the countryside of the town of Terbespiye (al-Qahtaniyah), northeast Syria, accompanied by several other female workers, is busy collecting cucumbers. Al-Ali said, “I work every day in the greenhouse from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm. The project helps the women provide for their families’ daily needs.”
Women have played a prominent role during the years of the Syrian crisis in the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) at various levels – whether militarily, politically or socially – and draw the world’s attention to the emerging experience of women’s leadership.
The AANES was first formed in 2014 in the Kurdish-majority regions of Afrin, Kobani and Jazira in northern Syria following the withdrawal of the government forces. Later, it was expanded to Manbij, Tabqa, Raqqa, Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor after the SDF defeated ISIS militarily there.
Ahin Hussein, the supervisor of the project, told North Press that the project started with only two dunums (or 2,000 square meters) of agricultural lands, and was later expanded. Today, it covers an area of 24 dunums (24,000 square meters). “We recently brought in freezers to store the overproduction of vegetables,” Hussein added. Cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and others are planted as part of the project.
In recent years, the Jazira region has witnessed a remarkable development in the production of greenhouses, as they cover a large proportion of the needs of the local markets. Previously, such projects were limited in scope.
The women at Damsal sell their production at a shop within the project that is visited by the residents of the area, in addition to selling the surplus at the markets in nearby cities, such as Qamishli and Terbespiye, at competitive prices. Damsal’s prices often beat those for vegetables from other areas of Syria, according to Hussein. “We seek to expand and develop the project in the near future, but we need to be supported by the concerned authorities in securing seeds throughout the year and the requirements related to preserving crops,” Hussein added.
The Damsal project provided many job opportunities for women in light of the economic crisis the country is going through, and contributed to raising the production of vegetables in the local market. The project is supported by the Economy Committee of Kongra Star in northeastern Syria, like other projects that provide job opportunities for women.
At the Kongra Star headquarters in the city of Qamishli, Gule Murad, a spokeswoman for the Economy office, said that the “office’s goal is to establish agricultural associations to include a larger number of women, provide them with job opportunities, and secure a decent life for them and their families.”
“The importance of the project is that it provides job opportunities for women and that it covers the area’s need for vegetables throughout the year,” she told North Press, adding that work is currently underway to establish a chicken farm near the greenhouse project.
Murad also indicated that they are focusing on expanding the project in order to achieve self-sufficiency in northeastern Syria, and to launch similar projects in every region under the AANES.