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Algerian women are pioneers in organic farming

Algerian women are pioneers in organic farming

Algerian women are pioneers in organic farming

Ibtissem Mahtout and Amira Messous pick fresh strawberries and tomatoes at the organic farm the two women work on near Algiers, a pioneering initiative in Algeria’s male-dominated agricultural sector.

After graduating from university four years ago, they left the capital and began working on the small patch of land in Douaouda, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the west.

“As soon as I’m in the field, I’m happy,” said Messous, 28, holding a package of fresh beets.

“From morning to night, we are here. For me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.”

Plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare organic farms, where produce is grown in harmony with the wider ecosystem and without the use of pesticides.

Messous said it was difficult at first “having to fit in” in a sector where most of the people who work the land are men.

According to local media, last October only four percent of workers registered with the Chamber of Agriculture in Tipaza province, where their land is located, were women.

But some “male farmers are happy to see educated women working the land,” Messous said.

“They take the time to explain things to us and bring more value to their own work.”

Her 29-year-old partner, Mahtout, recalls that they launched the project with just 60,000 Algerian dinars (about $445) — “enough to buy basic tools” — after renting the patch of land.

– I sell on Instagram –

With the help of Torba, an association that promotes organic farming in Algeria, they “learned to plant, to sow, to work the soil.”

Today, their 1,300 square meter farm even employs one full-time male worker – and up to eight part-timers during harvest.

When not in the field, the two women make full use of social media to sell their products.

On Instagram, they advertise their seasonal fruit and vegetable baskets every week and take orders for produce on WhatsApp.

On Friday, the first day of the Algerian weekend, customers pick up their orders at a larger farm near Zeralda, where other smallholders also sell produce, including flowers.

“We want to eat something healthy every now and then,” said Fatma Zohra, a 72-year-old loyal customer and subscriber to the small farm’s social media account.

“I thought these girls were really cute, and when I found out they were selling to subscribers, I wanted to encourage them.”

Each week, the pair sell between 10 and 30 baskets of fruits and vegetables that are in season.

The farm in Zeralda where they sell their products is also educational and runs themed programs for children.

As well as the Friday farmers market, it is also a gathering space for local families and offers cooking classes, entertainment and cultural events.

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