I do not want the next generation to leave the land
Elham, founder of AlBalqa Creative Institute, pick cucumbers in a Bayoudha greenhouse © SPARK, 2021
Meet the woman creating rural employment through her village’s rich agricultural history. Elham Alabbadi is on a mission: to combat urbanisation and encourage other young people to see their futures within the agricultural sector. Jordan’s food security may depend on it.
Bayoudha, a small village in Balqa governorate, northwest of Amman, is known for its rich soil, unspoilt nature and bountiful year-round crops of wheat, fruits and vegetables, beans, herbs and medicinal plants. The village has about 650 families who own the majority of land and greenhouses. For centuries, farming and animal breeding have been the main sources of income. Yet in recent years, Bayoudha’s inhabitants have been moving away from their agricultural roots.
Increased urbanisation in Jordan and the global shift away from traditional agriculture jobs, leaves the future of food and farming in a precarious position. On World Food Day last year, King Abdullah of Jordan highlighted the relationship between food security and social stability in the country, which faces ongoing food security problems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent analysis by FAO, WFP and the World Bank estimated that within Jordan: “53 per cent are vulnerable to food insecurity– corresponding to around 3 million individuals– and around 3 per cent (219 186 Jordanians) of households are food insecure.”
Additionally, many young people these days prefer to move to cities in search of better paying ‘office’ jobs in private and public sectors, rather than working the land. “This was alarming for me. I do not want the next generation to leave the land,” says Elham Alabbadi, entrepreneur and green jobs advocate.
Seeing the potential of the agricultural sector to create jobs in her village, the Jordanian activist launched AlBalqa Creative Institute in 2014. Her institute specialises in permaculture agriculture, environmental protection initiatives and empowering farmers. One successful initiative of the institute was the creation of the Bayoudha Village Products brand, which works directly with farmers, herders, community-based organisations, families and local government in the area.
“It’s not about services. It’s about our home, our land and our culture.”
Families are provided with 10 productive trees each and are taught how to care for them: planting, pruning, insect and disease management, organic soil, fertilisation, even how to protect the trees from lightning. The programme also works with families with home-based businesses, particularly employing women, to deliver courses in marketing and reaching new markets so they can scale up.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought great strain to Elham’s initiatives as lockdowns across the country meant much of the work and training could not take place and food supply chains were disrupted. They lost six out of 10 employees but were able to benefit from the COVID-19 recovery assistance by SPARK and International Group for Training (IGIT) through the Jobs and Perspectives programme, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Elham attended customised coaching sessions about financial management, exporting and marketing, and was able to create a pathway to recovery for her business.
Alongside her new team, Elham has begun working with the Jordan Investment Commission to display Bayoudha Village Products in the world-renowned Expo 2020 Dubai. “The coaching sessions about exporting and branding opened my eyes to the Expo in Dubai, which lasts for 6 months. I started contacting different governmental bodies to be there. This is the main goal for now as the Expo will be a great opportunity for all families in Bayoudha,” says Elham.
“When it comes to Bayoudha, it’s not about services but it’s about our home, our land and our culture,” Elham adds. As well as her efforts to showcase the village’s products internationally, she continues to work closely with farmers, bee-keepers and herders in the area and campaigns within schools to spread the message about the importance of agriculture and the environment to the next generation.