Local businesses get leg up in Kurdistan’s quest to be self-sufficient

"Tahini used to come into Iraqi Kurdistan, but more recently the region is exporting it."
author_image Levi Clancy

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) launched a 10-day training in Erbil on Sunday for seven tahini factories located in Baharka to help improve food hygiene and efficiency as rising demand begins with the start of the peak season.

"There are around seven tahini factories that are operating in Baharka," said Peewee Culaton-Viray of UNIDO's office in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. "The factories operate all year round, but during peak season a single factory can hire as many thirty people, most of whom are IDPs and refugees."

The training, which is implemented in cooperation with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, with support from the Governments of Japan and Austria, will help the factories with food safety and increasing productivity.

“They used to just meet the basic requirements of the Ministry of Health, and that was it,” said Culaton-Viray. "The training program teaches how to make products safer and in a more efficient and hygienic way.”  

“Increasing production also lets them hire more people,” he said.

Ghazi Hallawani (second from right) with his family, also involved in the tahini business. (Photo: Levi Clancy)
Ghazi Hallawani (second from right) with his family, also involved in the tahini business. (Photo: Levi Clancy)

“Tahini used to come into Iraqi Kurdistan, but more recently the region is exporting it,” said Seerwan Jameel, also of UNIDO, of the growing supply and demand for tahini. Trainee Ghazi Hallawani commented about the growth of his tahini business, “My factory in Mosul was 500 meters, but now my factory in Erbil is 2,000 meters.”

There is an upcoming surge for seasonal production. “Tahini is a winter food. People love to eat it in winter to get nutrition at a low price,” said Jameel.

 

Nahi Ali (left) with his cousin Rawat Muafaq (right). (Photo: Levi Clancy)
Nahi Ali (left) with his cousin Rawat Muafaq (right). (Photo: Levi Clancy)

Six of the factories are run by IDPs, including four from Mosul and two Yezidis from Bashiqa. “They used to be operating their tahini factories around Mosul. These are entrepreneurs, and they have established their new businesses in Baharka,” added Culaton-Viray.

“We have security, and the government facilitates us to export our goods,” said Nahi Ali, whose family left behind their tahini factory in their hometown Bashiqa when it was overtaken by ISIS.

Despite rising tahini production, sesame is mostly imported from Afghanistan and Ethiopia. “Iraq was one of the top sesame growers in the world, but no longer,” said Culaton-Viray.

“When my father opened our tahini business, we only used local sesame from the south of Iraq,” added Nahi’s cousin Rawat Muafaq Naif, who works in the factory. “The tahini tasted much better.”

 

Trainer Dindar Fareeq.
Trainer Dindar Fareeq.

Looking to the future, trainer Dindar Faeeq explained, “The training will help all the factories attain ISO and HACCP certification, in order to export their product.”

One trainee found success with such international certificates. “My father opened our factory sixty years ago,” said trainee Allah Baraqat, who like Nahi, is also Yezidi from Bashiqa. “We raised our business standards and acquired an ISO certificate, and now this certificate is helping us to export our tahini to Europe, America, and Canada.”

 

Editing by G.H. Renaud