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Creating jobs in Lebanon’s agro-industrial sector

11 March 2024 UNIDO

Mazeej Lebanon Story

Cooperatives in Lebanon’s agro-industry sector often face challenges when they want to upscale. 

Just ask Bassima Zein, whose journey to leading the Cooperative for Food Processing and Marketing was not so straightforward. Zein’s original plans to pursue an academic career were interrupted by the South Lebanon conflict and as a result, she decided to get married and devote herself to family life. However, in 2007, as her children grew older, her spirit led her back to her academic studies, once again showing her yearning to get new knowledge amidst life’s uncertainness. 

During her studies, Bassima’s life changed course once again when she met an environmental awareness group – this encounter led her to an agri-food processing training opportunity. Her thirst for knowledge led her to enrol in the training and, in 2011, together with 18 other women, establishing their own cooperative. 

Based in Abbasiyah, Lebanon, the cooperative produces zaatar (a traditional blend of herbs, sumac, and sesame seeds), and wanted to expand operations while retaining the essence of tradition. But they lacked the necessary expertise and marketing skills to promote their products in Beirut and the international market. 

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Then came welcome assistance.  

The MAZEEJ initiative is funded by Italy within the framework of the project, “Strengthening Job Creation and Creativity in the Agro-Food Sector in Lebanon Through Technology Transfer and Skills Training”, implemented by UNIDO in partnership with Lebanon’s Ministry of Industry and in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture. 

UNIDO recognized the potential of Zein’s cooperative and provided her and her colleagues with extensive support: refinement of the production processes, helping with the development of unique zaatar recipes, and honing critical business skills.  

For many people in the Middle East, zaatar is more than just a spice, it is part of their culture and history, a symbol of home and hope. 

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“Zaatar has a special place in hearts of women from the South,” Zein proclaims. 

Driven by their shared passion for culinary ideas related to zaatar, Zein and her fellow female entrepreneurs enthusiastically leveraged the UNIDO assistance. 

The cooperative not only received guidance on good agricultural and manufacturing practices, ensuring top-notch processing and hygiene standards for product safety and quality but also training in modern marketing techniques, including social media and market expansion strategies. And they were given the opportunity to showcase their products at exhibitions, bolstering their visibility.

The impact has been astounding. 

After partnering with UNIDO, the cooperative saw its zaatar product sales increase by 50% to 75%. This surge in business wasn't just local; they also landed a new customer in Beirut and broke into the international market with a client in Senegal, thanks to successful B2B meetings at the exhibitions.  

“We achieved success thanks to tailored-made trainings and on-site coaching,” Zein declares. “Today we are better prepared to scale up and to share all the skills we have acquired with our local community.” 

Project name: Strengthening job creation and creativity in the agro-industrial sector in Lebanon