Rebuilding Bashiqa’s Tahini Industry Post-ISIS

By United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Iraq

Bashiqa, a diverse sub-districtlocated 12 kilometers northeast of Mosul is well known for the production of tahini, a thick paste made from roasted and ground sesame seeds.

Popular in the Middle East, tahini is a staple in most households, often used as a simple breakfast item alongside date syrup and eaten with bread, or as an ingredient in popular Mediterranean foods such as hummus.

Prior to the rise of ISIS in 2014 and the occupation of the sub-district in June of that year, 25 tahini factories operated in the area.

However, the takeover of Bashiqa by ISIS destroyed this booming industry and forced the community to seek shelter elsewhere, becoming Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) mostly in the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq.

“Before 2014, we had very developed tahini factories,” one factory owner, Sabah Jaboor explained. “When ISIS came, we lost everything.”

Jaboor, a 67-year old retired school teacher first opened his factory during the first Gulf War in 1990.

After the sub-district was liberated in late 2016 and the security situation improved, IDPs began to return home.

“When we returned, we found that our factories had been looted, burned, partially damaged or completely destroyed,” he added.

After returning, he found that half of his factory had been demolished in an airstrike, equipment and materials had been looted or destroyed, and he had also lost 350 olive trees and poultry.

Jaboor says that he once provided jobs to nearly 40 people. Since reopening his factory last year, he now only has the capacity to employ six to eight laborers.
Another factory owner in Bashiqa, Sayd Haji, has been in the tahini production business since 1980, as his family has been working in the industry for generations.

“I lost $800,000 because of ISIS,” Haji explained, as walls in his factory were demolished and all equipment and raw materials were stolen.

Haji once employed nearly 45 people and produced over 10 tons of tahini per day. Now he’s down to less than 20 employees and only producing four tons per day of tahini.

Today, only 17 factories have reopened, but the process has been difficult and production has decreased dramatically from what it once was.

“But we have will and vision. We were strong and were able to reopen our factories by working during displacement and saving money,” Jaboor said.

“We need international support to rebuild,” he explained. “It’s urgent and migration has become a disease due to lack of job security.”

This is how the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) became involved in assisting to reestablish the tahini industry in Bashiqa, Nineveh. Jovita Culaton Viray, Chief Technical Adviser said, “It is part of the process to help revive the local economy and generate employment in Bashiqa. The revitalization of the industries operational prior to the conflict and support of economic livelihood activities along a value chain can play a crucial role in this process”.

By providing training in modern factory operation techniques as well as food safety and hygiene, factory owners will improve their business operations which will eventually allow for more employability opportunities within the community.
“We focused on tahini because Bashiqa is well known for its tahini production, especially with the local variety of sesame seeds that they use,” explained UNIDO’s National Coordinator Mahmood Khoshnaw.

He added that 16 tahini factory owners participated in the ten-day training that took place in Baradaresh beginning in mid-August.

“We focused on food safety, hygiene, factory layout and all of the technical parameters required of such food processing factories to operate in a safe environment and produce safe and hygienic food,” Khoshnaw said.

The training also covered business and financial management as well as soft entrepreneurial skills.

UNIDO will allow time for the factory owners to implement what they have learned in the training and plan on a follow up assessment by late September.

Based on the assessment, Khoshnaw said that the project will give additional technical assistance including some equipment support to the beneficiaries of the training.

Participants in the program were happy with the training provided by UNIDO and are looking forward to implementing their newfound knowledge to improve their factories and help create jobs in the community.

“We received a lot of new information not only for tahini, but also for foods processing and safety and how to store foods to prevent bacteria and contamination,” Haji said. “We also learned about factory layout and managing the factory.”

Jaboor also commented on the results of the UNIDO training.

He explained that the layout and management of his factory was very “chaotic” before.

“It was as if we never had a factory before. The instructor is very knowledgeable and we are pleased with him,” Jaboor said.

He added that everything in the training was beneficial. He highlighted some important points which hadn’t been implemented before such as learning the organizational chart for employees, management of the factory layout, and the physical and mechanical process of how to properly clean the machines as well as food hygiene and safety standards.

“In this training program, we were exposed to a lot of new information,” he said. “As a teacher, I can say that this is a very successful training program.”
UNIDO is implementing the tahini factory training with funding from the Japanese Government in order to help revive the local economy of Bashiqa, Nineveh, Iraq.

Text and photos: United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Iraq

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 September 2019 13:49

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