A new project in a Bethlehem-area refugee camp seeks to help reverse a history of forced urbanization and revitalize connections to agriculture, simultaneously increasing Palestinians’ control over their food sources, especially organic vegetables. It’s not the first time we reported on Refutrees, but they project has been blooming over the past year.
Lamya Hussain, the founder of Canadian organization Refutrees, told Green Prophet that the project aims to strengthen food sovereignty by “reconnecting what used to be farming communities to food production techniques, making it sustainable for them to consume organic, green, fresh produce that they’re producing themselves.”
She explained that the project responds specifically to residents’ needs, because it was realized in close partnership with the local community.
Refutrees is part of the growing movement that seeks refugee-led, sustainable development for displaced peoples. Run by volunteers, the non-profit launched its pilot rooftop garden in late January in Aida camp in collaboration with the local Lajee Center; the result of five years of joint research on how best to deploy urban agricultural systems to improve community health.
Volunteers and local youth have been key players since day one, participating in every step of the process. They prepared the roof surfaces, built planting beds and set out irrigation lines. They erected a greenhouse and planted onions, lettuce, and radishes.
The pilot will demonstrate how rooftop gardens function so residents can sign up to build their own gardens across the camp. If all goes according to plan, Aida could soon be home to a network of rooftop gardens that could serve as a model for refugee camps across the region.
Shatha Alazzah, Lajee Center environmental coordinator, said that the local community was excited about the project, which she described as, so far, a success.
Food sovereignty and national sovereignty are intrinsically linked, and rooftop gardens could help lessen Palestinian dependence on donor aid, Israeli produce, and Palestinian produce that has been marked up due to restrictions on West Bank farmers.
“There are a lot of things that fuel the occupation, and one of them is its appetite for arable land,” said Hussain, “There is a forced urbanization that is happening through the occupation, that is also silently being supported by donor projects,” which she argued largely neglect the Palestinian agricultural sector.
“This needs to be challenged and rectified,” she added, highlighting that “agriculture is the backbone of the Palestinian economy, and there needs to be a reinvestment in that sector.”
Refutrees was born after years of research conducted by founder Lamya Hussain in Palestinian refugee camps across the West Bank and Lebanon. Lamya observed the failure of current development and aid programs to end donor-reliance, and her research identified gaps in building local, long-term livelihoods for refugees.
Lajee Center (“lajee” means “refugee” in Arabic) was established in Aida Refugee Camp in 2000 by a group of 11 young camp residents who wanted to serve their community. They set up a creative cultural center to work with new generations of Palestinians as they continue to struggle for justice and rights for Palestine.
Refutrees was created to integrate green innovation with the development of projects fundamentally based on the needs of local communities in collaboration with local resources.
Previously Green Prophet reported on another rooftop project in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp (link here) and similar initiatives in Gaza (link here) and Egypt (link here). Fabulous initiatives that could (and should) be replicated on rooftops across the region.
Images from Refutrees website