The Bekaa is the agricultural heartland of Lebanon where many people own cows. But, as one man explains, not everyone knows how to make the most of their cows.
Ali has lived in the Bekaa all his life. He met his wife there and raised five children there. They live in a small functional house he built using pallets and remnants from nearby construction sites. There are also a couple of ramshackle dwellings behind where a handful of chickens and a cow named Sabah — Arabic for morning — live.
As his wife was occupied raising the children and Ali’s sight and hearing deteriorated over recent years, employment opportunities have dwindled. The family had to make sacrifices which included withdrawing children from school because the fees needed were just not readily available.
One day in spring, a conversation with a local vet about Sabah’s problematic knee resulted in Ali enrolling in a paid course on livestock care. The classes, facilitated by the Italian non-governmental organisation (NGO) Istituto per la Cooperazione Universitaria (ICU) and supported by the World Food Programme (WFP). Over several weeks, six other Lebanese and 17 Syrians embarked on a broad curriculum of cow-care techniques.
“I learned so many ways to take better care of Sabah,” explained Ali. “I didn’t realise that I should pay more attention to her knees — they’re vital for a big girl like her.”
The course began with the basics, such as focusing on their well-being, milking techniques, the best types of fodder, and spotting signs of sickness early on. Once semester one was complete, additional theoretical courses were available on how to package and market dairy produce. Each participant received a kit containing useful equipment such as a thermometer, tools to trim her hooves and milk jugs.
WFP has supported a host of NGOs in Lebanon with similar livelihood training programmes since 2017. They’re designed in collaboration with local municipalities — and vets in this case — to boost local vulnerable populations’ employment opportunities in agricultural, environmental or construction sectors. Over 350 programmes have taken place throughout Lebanon, and all are funded by the Germany Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
He’s now selling enough milk that he can afford the transport to school and associated fees his children need. Weeks after Ali completed the course and during the children’s summer holiday from school, the family witnessed the birth of Sabah’s firstborn, Misbah, meaning ‘lamp’ in Arabic.
“She’s the light of our lives,” beamed Ali.
WFP’s livelihoods premise is simple — cash is given to buy food to participants that come from the most vulnerable communities in Lebanon. They’re the people and families most in need of opportunities to develop a more self-reliant future.