Near East Foundation (NEF)

Founded in 1915, the Near East Foundation's mission is to help build more sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive communities in the Middle East and Africa through education, governance, and economic development initiatives. NEF is an operational NGO with projects in seven countries -- Armenia, Egypt, Jordan, Mali, Morocco, Palestine, and Sudan -- where we work to directly improve the lives of tens of thousands of vulnerable people through programs in Peacebuilding, Civic Engagement and Education, Sustainable Agriculture, and Business Development. In the field, approximately 50 NEF staff members-all of them from the countries in which they work-partner with local organizations to find homeg...
Oct 12, 2011

Training and Microcredit Improving Life in Sudan's Gum Belt

Hosna Abker sits by her new butane gas cooker.
Hosna Abker sits by her new butane gas cooker.

Training in new production methods and financing through microcredit are allowing gum arabic producers to protect forests and improve their income.

Hosna Abker Ahmed Ismail, 34, is a farmer in Abu Hamra, a village in Sudan’s Um Ruwaba locality of North Kordofan. Until last year, she tended a small garden and helped in gum arabic cultivation—tapping trees to produce this marketable gum. Like many women in this poverty-stricken rural area, she struggled to find fuel for cooking and the resources to feed her family of eight.

Over the past year, Hosna Abker has participated in the Near East Foundation’s Sustainable Gum Arabic Production project—a project that has changed her life. 

Hosna is one of 400+ producers that received training through the project. Many also benefited from the project’s microcredit funds, which give farmers loans to obtain the supplies they need to help grow their business.

“Before the trainings, I did not care about gum arabic trees,” she said.  “I cut the trees for wood.  I used very bad tools for tapping.  I stored the gum in plastic bags, which changed its color, smell, and shape—and reduced the market price.”

Through trainings, Hosna Abker learned how to use better tools for tapping (the sonki).  She learned how to properly collect, clean, and store gum to retain its highest value; she also learned how to sort, dry, and store seeds for future planting. She learned the environmental importance of the gum arabic forests.

Based on her new knowledge, Hosna Abker no longer wanted to have to cut gum arabic trees for fuel. She applied for a microcredit grant to purchase a butane gas cooker.  This cooker lasts for several months, and allows her a number of extra hours each day – time she previously spent collecting wood. She now spends more time with her children, and more time helping with other income generating activities – tapping trees, working in her garden, and improving her family’s livelihood.

With her new knowledge and resources, Hosna Abker’s outlook has changed.  She has more hope for the future.

“Before the trainings, I just cared for my garden,” she said. “Now I will improve my life through agriculture, gum arabic, and microcredit projects. I will do more to increase my activities in the future, so as to improve my life, increase my family income, and achieve my hopes.

Oct 12, 2011

Rural Businesses Thriving in Armenia

Dried fruit entrepreneur and project beneficiary
Dried fruit entrepreneur and project beneficiary

Strong micro-enterprise growth continues throughout rural Armenia, where NEF and its partners have helped 15 businesses bring economic development to their struggling communities.

In particular, project beneficiaries in the dried fruit and fish farming industries have made great progress.

Construction of a new dried fruit production facility has finished in the Ptghavan village of the Tavush region.

Franchisee and project participant Andranik Veranyan entered into an agreement with the Regional Employment Center of Tavush. With partial Center financing, eight people are now participating in training organized by Andranik to become workers in his dried fruit production business.

In August 2011, he produced his first batch, 5000 kilograms of dried peaches, using fresh peaches purchased from community farmers. During this process, Andranik developed key technological insights that will enable him to solve minor manufacturing glitches before the next production phase. He is planning to install a new $3,000 compartmentalized drying system, which will allow him to organize processing more effectively when there is less sunlight.  Andranik’s business has grown to have fifteen employees. He has trained all of them personally.

The managers of “STAR” and “Fresh” supermarkets evaluated his product and rated the quality as excellent, which surpassed the expectations of the producer and resellers. A preliminary agreement has been signed between them to buy Andranik’s entire crop of dried peaches in November 2011.

The Rural Armenia Ministry of Finance approved Vahan Safaryan, the owner of a fish farming business, to develop and build new basins.  This will allow for growth in his production to fulfill the expanding market demand. With the developments made possible through this project, Vahan has become the biggest supplier of fresh fish for shops and restaurants in the Gegharkunik region.  This has also presented the opportunity for him to produce and provide other fish farming businesses in Armenia with small fish, helping to extend his growth and progress to other business owners.

For project resources, detailed progress reports, and photos visit  

Sep 28, 2011

Food Security Promoted in Vulnerable Farming Communities

Farming Group at Participatory Extension Meeting
Farming Group at Participatory Extension Meeting

Since June 6, 2011, conflict and aerial bombings have rocked South Kordofan – a state on Sudan’s border with the newly independent South Sudan. Thousands of families have been displaced by the conflict; a July situation report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Relief estimated that over 73,000 individuals were displaced. 

While intermittent conflict and violence continues in much of the state, relative stability has returned to some areas (particularly in the North) and families have begun to return to these regions.  However, valuable crop planting time has been lost—and many farms were looted of their tools, seeds, and other goods necessary for planting.  As a result, families face food insecurity and the real threat of shortages in both the short and long term. 

Severe restrictions on international humanitarian organizations remain in South Kordofan. The Near East Foundation (NEF) has maintained operations through its office in Dilling—one of the only international NGOs to remain. As the situation has begun to stabilize in the north of the state, NEF has moved from relief support to working with partners to ensure the food security of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and returnees through emergency farming support.

In coordination with the South Kordofan Rural Development Program (SKRDP) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, NEF is working with vulnerable farming communities in Al Samma West, Al Samma East, and Al Shaeer in South Kordofan.

Over the past months, the emergency farming project has:

  • Mobilized 300 vulnerable farm families for participation in the project.
  • Cultivated 1,500 fedans of land (5 fedans per family).  A fedan is approximately equal to an acre.  The SKRDP hired three tractors to plow the land in each of the targeted sites.
  • Weeded land to contribute to crop cultivation.
  • Distributed 4.5 tons of certified sorghum seeds to beneficiaries.
  • Formed and strengthened farming groups.
  • Provided extension services to farmers to promote improved knowledge, skills, and understanding of improved farming technologies that will contribute to attaining food security.

Farmers have expressed their commitment to the project and have recognized its importance to supporting their food security and livelihoods. Although the project has operated on a limited scale in South Kordofan, it has gained a positive reputation and encouraged IDPs to return to the area and farm again. 

NEF will continue working with partners to provide ongoing support for farmers to ensure their food security this harvest season.

Tractor hired for cultivation of the land
Tractor hired for cultivation of the land
Land preparation and sowing practice
Land preparation and sowing practice
Farming Group Extension Meeting
Farming Group Extension Meeting
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