A back-to-the-land movement is blossoming in the Palestinian Authority, the United Nation’s newest nonmember observer state. “The Palestinian future is in the land.” Farmer Khader Khader said, standing in his organic olive grove in the northern West Bank village of Nus Jubail. Many Palestinian farmers are switching to organic farming methods, and selling their oil to high-end grocers in the US and Europe.
According to the aid group Oxfam, an estimated 17,000 tons of olive oil is produced annually in the West Bank by thousands of farmers, some of whom are producing fair trade olive products. Olive oil has unique traditional and cultural significance in the region. Most Palestinian olive oil is produced for local consumption. But this product is becoming increasingly important for Palestinians’ connection to the global economy.
The business of organic farming, for international markets, was first introduced to the West Bank in 2004. According to Nasser Abu Farha of the Canaan Fair Trade Association (who we’ve covered here), one of the companies selling organic Palestinian olive oil to distributors abroad, today at least $5 million worth of organic olive oil is exported from the territories every year.
“About half of all Palestinian commercial oil exports,” he said. “The future of Palestinian exports is in added value, through environmental and social accountability. People want to know: Where is this oil coming from? Whose life is it changing?”
Around 930 Palestinian farmers have fair-trade and organic certification. Another 140 are in the process of “converting” their land, which takes two-to three-years of testing and monitoring the soil until it is officially certified as free from pesticides and chemicals.
Lack of rain and Israeli trade restrictions are among the many challenges these farmers face. But new digital technology and the rising demand for organic produce are giving Palestinian farmers new ways to compete in global markets. In Whole Foods supermarkets in New York and New Jersey, organic Palestinian olive oil is sold under the “Alter Eco” brand, Farha said.
“I don’t throw rocks,” said Khader, in reference to young men who hurl stones at Israeli soldiers. The proud farmer, Khader, gestured towards the rock terraces he built in his organic olive grove. “I use them to build our future.”
Read more about green movements in Palestine:
Image of Palestinian farmer harvesting olives from Ryan Rodrick Beiler/ Shutterstock