Aiming to revolutionize an industry facing severe financial struggles, Beduin shepherds in Israel have begun to join the world's first ever Beduin agricultural co-operative. Following a year of preparations, the Beersheba-based Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation – Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (AJEEC-NISPED) launched the Mara'i Sheep Breeders Cooperative about a month ago.
Around 10 shepherds from several different Beduin families have joined the cooperative thus far, and more are expected to join soon, according to AJEEC. "In the process of establishing the cooperative we dealt with cultural issues – such as family businesses and tribal identify of the participants, but ultimately the members realized that only together can we save money and that this is the only way in which it is possible to influence and tackle the many issues that they were facing," said Kher Albaz, co-executive director of AJEEC-NISPED.
The shepherds – who are from the Abu Krinat village, located between Dimona and Beersheba – have joined the cooperative with the goal of lowering their collective costs and increasing their profits. As grazing the availability of grazing lands has been reduced, costs of animal feed have increased and taxes have risen, the shepherds have experienced sharp declines in their earnings.
As part of the cooperative program, the shepherds are receiving training from AJEEC-NISPED staff members on professional development and business cooperation skills, the organization said. In addition, the shepherds participate in a two-year training program under veterinarian Dr. Mazen Abu Siam on improving their breeding methods and herd management. Also integral to the program are educational site visits, and laptop computer distribution among the farmers to help them operate their herds, information provided by AJEEC-NISPED said.
Recently, the shepherds also received training from Dame Pauline Green, president of the International Co-operative Alliance. In the future, the Marai'I Sheep Breeders Cooperative is planning to expand as well as open a collaborative dairy and butcher shop, the AJEEC-NISPED information said. The cooperative and the accompanying training programs will enable the shepherds to "work more efficiently" and is just one of several projects AJEEC-NISPED is doing to promote empowerment within Negev Beduin society, Albaz stressed.
"I am sure that this partnership will be a model for livestock raisers and business owners in additional areas in the Negev," he said.