Ain Ebel Agricultural Cooperative

Women achieve wonders as they turn their hand to carob molasses production
The creation and development of the Ain Ebel Agricultural Products Manufacturing Cooperative (APMC) in southern Lebanon is an ideal example of hardship and need giving rise to ingenuity and unexpected results. “During the occupation we were cut off from the outside world for two to three weeks at a time,” said Mary Maroun, head of the APMC. “Under these conditions we learned the importance of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.” According to Maroun, she and several other women in her village heard about a training program in Bint Jbeil and decided to participate out of curiosity. The training was part of a rural development project organized by the YMCA and funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The program taught the women the basics of agricultural manufacturing, food bacteria, production processes and how to work as a group. Market research, marketing and accounting were also part of the package.

“The abundance of carob trees, which require little maintenance, led us to the production of molasses,” said Maroun. “Finally we were able to get the project running thanks to research, trial and error, and the invaluable instruction of a seasoned manufacturer from the South.” The Ain Ebel APMC jump-started its activities with the aid of land grants from the local municipality, and the Jesuits donated the building. USAID/YMCA provided funding for equipment. Maroun explained that in earlier carob molasses production, the carob fruit was crushed by hand-operated stone mills and then soaked in water. The mixture was then boiled to produce the molasses.

The production chain at the APMC is fully automated. The raw carob, delivered in 50-kilogram bags, is poured into a hopper and taken to the grinder via a conveyer belt. The output, transferred to a wire mesh separator by air suction, is sorted into four categories, including one for the seeds. Although they are not used in the molasses manufacturing process, carob seeds have commercial value. They are used in the production of medicines, hormones, cosmetics and as a sweetener that can be safely consumed by diabetics.

The crushed carob pieces are placed in stainless steel vats for soaking, with the smaller pieces on top so the system acts as a natural filter. After 12 hours, the juice is emptied into the boiler via a special conduit at the bottom. The remaining residue is pressed to extract every drop of the valuable liquid. The juice is then boiled to produce the familiar thick black molasses. A refractometer ensures that the viscosity of the product is within the correct range. After cooling, the molasses is poured into jars.

“Our molasses is 100 percent natural, only carob and water,” said Maroun. “Quality is our prime concern and our product satisfies all international norms, including those of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”
Molasses is not the sole product of APMC. A large solar dryer on the roof produces organic sun-dried tomatoes, as well as dried apples, figs and cherries. The center is also equipped with a fish smoker and the necessary equipment for manufacturing jams.


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