The southern West Bank is known for its grapes, which Palestinians grow with little to no water on small plots. Often the vineyards are simple grape trees, without wires to support or encourage the plants to spread out.
This month, I wrote a piece for the Jerusalem Report on Odeh Sabarna (left), who runs the Beit Ommar Cooperative Agricultural Products and Services Society out of the southern West Bank village of 15,000. Sabarna is trying to sell fair trade raisins to Germany. His cooperative also buys chemicals, both conventional and organic, in bulk in order to cut costs for small farmers.
We’ve written here about the Israeli label SAHA: Fair Trade, which imports Palestinian olive oil, grape honey and za’atar to health food stores, mainly in Tel Aviv. Sabarna’s story is about the Palestinians who make it further away from home by using modern marketing to preserve centuries-old farming practices.For a brief summary, there are several other groups promoting Palestinian Fair Trade, mainly on the West Bank. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) organization exports olive oil, couscous, sundried tomatoes, almonds. Nasser Abufarha runs the Palestine Fair Trade Association out of Jenin, which sells similar products along with honey and tehini. Palestinian olive oil is the most successful product.
However, all these organizations are working at a time when farming is increasingly less profitable and less desirable. Beit Ommar is on the road between Bethlehem and Hebron, cities with promising off-farm job prospects. Because land in Beit Ommar is scarce, the farmland at the village edge is checkered with new concrete houses. Sabarna says he will send his three kids to university, as will the rest of the village parents. It seems like even for Fair Trade farmers, agriculture is more and more a side occupation and not the main source of income.
You can read the full article by clicking these thumbnails (you have to click through a few times to see them full size).
Sabarna is looking for English-speaking volunteers to edit the Beit Ommar Cooperative’s Web site. If you’d like to contact him to visit the farm or to help out, check out the Web site, where you can find his e-mail address and phone number.
And to see more pictures and the story behind this article, check out TheTruthHerzl.
(Photo by Daniella Cheslow)