Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A unique struggle for Palestinian farmers

We often talk about how agriculture needs to improve in many under-developed countries. Not only does more land need to be used for local farming, but governments must also put more resources into improving food supply.

This is also true of the Palestinian territory. According to the Palestinian Authority agriculture only makes up 5.8 percent of their GDP. The government also puts little effort into agriculture, only spending one percent of their total budget on it. The Palestinian authority has instead made security and institutions a spending priority

Farming is made more difficult in the Palestinian territory because of the watchful, untrusting eye of Israel. The Israeli settlements also take up more and more of the Palestinian land.

From the Guardian, writer Phoebe Greenwood gives us this struggle of one Palestinian farmer.

Zuhair al-Manasreh, once the governor of Jenin and later of Bethlehem, is now a date farmer. He runs the largest date business in the occupied Palestinian territory. "I love the land. I'm the son of a farming family," says Manasreh. He lovingly describes the olive and almond trees of his childhood home in Hebron, but says it was too risky to cultivate there.
Hebron is among the most volatile areas of the occupied West Bank, distinguished by a strong Israeli military presence and frequent clashes between Israeli settlers and the Palestinian community. Olive trees are the mainstay of the Palestinian agricultural economy, but they are also the most frequent casualty of settler attacks. More than 7,500 olive trees were uprooted or destroyed by Israeli settlers between January and October this year, many in the southern Hebron hills.
In 2006, a year after retiring from politics, Manasreh hit upon the idea of dates. They take longer to spoil than olives and have a relatively high rate of return, he reasoned. The sweetest, plumpest majul dates flourish in the Jordan valley, not far from the Dead Sea. So he planted 7,000 trees there.
Initially, Manasreh relied entirely on his own capital but in 2011, when the bank refused to give him another loan, he merged with Palestinian business giants Padico, and Nakheel Palestine was born. The business now owns six farms, with 20,000 date palm trees, and employs 100 people (rising to 150 during the harvest). They also grow and export dates. They are yet to turn a profit. Manasreh's farms are surrounded by 28 Israeli settlements, occupying 90% of the Jordan valley.
A recent report by 21 NGOs found that the EU imports £185m worth of goods from Israeli settlements every year, mostly dates and citrus fruits – 15 times the value of European imports from Palestinians. Israeli dates are cheaper. Palestinian farmers aren't able to travel to Israeli ports to oversee their exports, so they hire Israeli middlemen. Their pesticides, boxes and shipping pallets are all bought from Israel.

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