Jordan’s Badia Cheese Brand Goes Regional

December 14, 2019

Awassi Cheese packing

MWAQQAR-- The ladies in Central Badia sure know their way around making dairy products. Creating delicious milk byproducts goes back hundreds of years in the meadows where raising livestock was the only profession.

Mwaqqar, 50 KM east from Amman, is a major milk producer with more than 500,000 cattle grazing in its vast lands. Historically, the abundance of milk production made the area rely on selling milk and its byproducts to cities around them, mainly Amman.

In 2018, The Badia became home to a brand that is gaining regional recognition. Quality milk, experience, and the latest technology made Badia the producer of one of the best cheeses in the region. Women at Sayyedat Al Badiah Cooperative Society are part-owners of Al Awassi Cheese, a brand envisioned by the UNDP, that first made its way to its neighbouring city Amman, but more recently has found its place on dining tables around the region.

Nima Jbour, 64, member of Sayyedat Al Badia, learned how to make yoghurt and ghee from her mother and grandmother. Her father owned more than 400 sheep, milk production was plentiful. Her family learned how to preserve the milk in various forms for home use, especially in winter when milk production is scarce.

The simple life Jordanians of Central Badia enjoyed became harder, and their small income was not enough to sustain their growing population. While some of them left to work in the military, others were subject to poverty. The Gulf Crisis of 1990-1991 also caused severe environmental damage in many of the terrestrial ecosystems. The influx of refugees with their livestock (estimated at 1.8 million livestock including sheep, goats and camels) caused degradation of the ecosystems and affected the productivity of the Badia Rangeland, which is one of the primary grazing resources for Jordan livestock.

Help is on the way

Traditionally, women in Badia stayed at home, while the men worked. The tough living conditions, however, meant they had to go out and contribute. Nima was one of the women with an entrepreneurial mindset. She put her simple dairy product skills to work and became an entrepreneur of her time.

“I like making dairy products. I have been doing this for more than 30 years. It was a tiring process nonetheless as everything was done by hand” Nima said, as she paused before continuing “Although I know how to do this very well, sometimes it worked while other times it didn’t, and we had to disregard the product by throwing it out,”

Nima’s and her friends’ life changed since new technologies were introduced by the Badia Restoration project, a contingency plan by the government to offset the effects of the Gulf War. The Government of Jordan submitted claims to the United Nations Compensations Commission (UNCC) for the remediation and restoration of terrestrial resources. Building on its experience in alleviating poverty for host communities, the UNDP was tasked with implementing a two-year project that aims at enhancing livelihoods of livestock herders in the three Badia regions through value chain development on dairy products. 

The UNDP introduced technology to make the process of making dairy products easier, faster and scientifically standardized. This meant an increase in production pipeline.

The production of the ladies at Sayyedat Al Badiah quadrupled.

Success with local resources

Raha Farwan, Head of Sayyedat Al Badiah said the production capacity has increased from 30 to 200 litres per day. Powered with new machines, commercial training and technical knowledge, the ladies introduced new products that were previously hard to make, such as cheese.

“Making cheese needs a lot of technical knowledge. The process itself is very delicate and a small mistake can ruin everything. Now we make the best cheese in town,” she said. The cheese produced by the organization was so delicious it sold out in all the local markets “souqs” and farmer markets the ladies participated in.

“I stood speechless as I watched our products fly off the table at our first market. I called the ladies to hurry up with replenishment. It felt great to see our efforts receive such great feedback,” Um Saif said.

Not only production improved, but the UNDP team also helped women to design and market their brand. Their products are now well known with an attractive orange colour that made it stand out amongst the tens of dairy product brands in the region.

Eleven cooperatives in Jordan’s Badia regions received similar support that Sayyedat Al Badiah got. Development work included the renovating and upgrading of the dairy-production facility for each society, this included new production machines and a small lab to test the quality of milk before processing. Members of the management team received training on the business techniques, the policy-regulatory framework for micro and small-enterprises in Jordan, in addition to marketing and how to access big markets.

Most importantly, participating women received hands-on training on the best practices for cheese production, storage and hygiene. “Previously, we didn’t exactly know how to market our products; therefore, we would turn anyone selling milk down. We couldn’t buy any more milk because we simply had no production capacity,” Raha said.

“Now, we always look for quality milk, and thankfully, our Badia makes the best milk,” she laughed, pointing to the green meadows surrounding the building of the society.

Building on the success of the dairy products, the Ministry of Environment/Badia Restoration Programme will expand and scale up the project to develop a new production line of “Al Samen and Al Jameed” (ghee and dried milk) in the same local production facilities.

The project will ensure that the loss of the raw milk is decreased and that the milk that contains certain characteristics which doesn’t meet the cheese processing can be invested to produce other dairy products such as Al Samen and Al Jameed, thus increasing profit margins of the of all the societies in Badia.