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Women-run cheese-making venture takes off in small village near Karak

By Rayya Al Muheisen - Sep 07,2023 - Last updated at Sep 07,2023

AMMAN — In the heart of Ader, a small village near Karak, Kholoud Hourani, a devoted homemaker and mother of six, nurtured a lifelong dream of achieving a successful career by making ricotta and pecorino cheese. 

Hourani’s life was predominantly confined to domestic responsibilities until her children grew up, and her husband’s illness brought financial strain and a longing for a sense of belonging within the community. 

Although Hourani possessed a university degree, her aspirations were thwarted by geographic limitations and a lack of employment prospects in her hometown of Ader.

Yet, after decades of waiting, a ray of hope came in the form of a job opportunity at a local cheese production kitchen. 

Hourani joined FormaJO, initially hesitant about venturing into the world of Italian cheese production.

“The initial stages were quite challenging,” Hourani told The Jordan Times. “But with time, I gained confidence through the on-the-job training provided by FormaJO.”

Hourani fondly recalled the training sessions led by cheese-making experts. 

“We acquired specialised techniques adapted to our local climate and various milk varieties. Quality control and food safety became second nature,” she added.

This journey brought more than just financial benefits; it enriched Hourani’s social life, introducing her to new friends and a supportive network that felt like a second family, she said. 

FormaJO’s artisanal cheeses take shape in Ader, crafted by a group of eight determined women. 

Since 2018, these women have been producing Italian-style cheese from sheep’s milk, guided and supported by the Habibi Association.

Home-based businesses and micro-enterprises in Jordan, including informal ones, play a significant role in the economy. However, they encounter numerous challenges, including limited market access, a lack of business development services and a challenging regulatory environment.

Yet, with the introduction of the FormaJO brand, Habibi aspires to commercialise their production and explore new markets for their ricotta and pecorino cheeses produced in Ader.

The Habibi Valtiberina Association officially unveiled the FormaJO cheese brand during an event attended by notable figures, including Ministry of Tourism Secretary-General Emad Hijazeen, USAID/Jordan Mission Director Leslie Reed, ambassadors, and representatives from Amman’s top hotels and restaurants.

The cheese produced in Ader is prominently featured in Mar Youssef’s Pizzeria, which is also operated by the Habibi Association.

FormaJO’s journey receives support from the USAID Informal Livelihoods Advancement Activity, known as Iqlaa.

“FormaJO embodies the fusion of community development, knowledge transfer and production excellence,” remarked Mario Cornioli, Habibi’s country director, during the launch event.

Cornioli emphasised that at the core of FormaJO’s social enterprise lies a comprehensive knowledge transfer programme, facilitated by an Italian cheese-making specialist who collaborates closely with local women, equipping them with invaluable knowledge, skills and expertise.

The cheese-making project has been bolstered by USAID support since 2019, enabling the association to establish an expanded cheese production and training centre in Ader, complete with a visitor reception area, as well as tasting and sales facilities.

USAID has further aided in the development of the FormaJO brand by enhancing the supply of raw materials, strengthening the capacity and expertise of local women, crafting business and marketing strategies and exploring new market opportunities.

Reflecting on USAID’s support for Habibi and the development of FormaJO, USAID/Jordan Mission Director Leslie Reed underscored the agency’s partnership with the Habibi Valtiberina Association in their pursuit of financial sustainability, which promises stable employment opportunities for women and the Ader community. The launch of the FormaJO cheese brand is supported through the US-Jordanian Memorandum of Understanding for economic development in Jordan.

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