The founder of an Israeli Palestinian think tank who played an instrumental role in the release of captive soldier Gilad Schalit is working on a new cross-border effort amid conflict – the transfer of 5,000 tons of Israeli potatoes to civilians in Gaza.
After hearing the idea from Israeli agricultural expert Hillel Adiri, activist Gershon Baskin, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, launched an online Indiegogo campaign aiming to raise the $730,000 necessary to purchase a 5,000-ton surplus of potatoes from the Israel Vegetable Growers Association, he said. Due to union bylaws guaranteeing farmers a fair price for their labor, the association cannot simply donate the potatoes.
“They can’t market these potatoes [in Israel] because then the market would be flooded and the prices would go down,” Baskin told the Post on Wednesday, explaining that such a scenario would not bode well for the farmers.
While nearly every year such surpluses occur, Baskin agreed that the regulations of the associations are important in protecting the farmers’ interests.
“We don’t want our farmers to go bankrupt,” he said.
“We have pride in Israeli agriculture.”
Meanwhile, Adiri told the Post that European buyers were not interested in purchasing more potatoes at the moment because there was also overproduction there due to good summer growing conditions. Adiri, a senior technical marketing adviser for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, has served a number of agricultural advisory roles both globally and at home – including a past position as director-general of the Agriculture Ministry.
In light of this situation, Baskin is determined to raise the funds necessary to buy the surplus potatoes and ship them to Gaza, calculating that $730,000 can cover the purchase and shipping of 5,000 tons of potatoes.
As of Wednesday evening the “Emergency Food Aid for Gaza” campaign had attracted a total of $49,236 worth of donations on Indiegogo.
In addition, Baskin said he had received another $10,000 in direct bank transfers.
“There’s more money coming in; it’s coming in every hour,” Baskin said, noting that the money has come from about 600 donors, predominantly from the US and Israel.
Meir Yifrach, head of the Israel Vegetable Growers Association, told the Post that the association’s farmers were more than willing to sell the potatoes for transport to Gaza for between NIS 0.40-0.50 per kilogram.
At the moment these potatoes are in refrigeration and can stay there until September, at which point they could technically be sold to the Israeli market for about NIS 1.60-1.70 per kilo, Yifrach explained. However, due to the exorbitant electricity costs of cooling these potatoes, it is preferable to sell them now for civilian use in Gaza and to sell fresh ones to the Israeli market come September, he said.
The going price for potatoes today in Gaza is between four and six times the price that Baskin would pay the association, according to his campaign.
Baskin has pledged that all contributions would go directly toward distributing the potatoes to the neediest members of Gaza society, saying he and his team members would be working with a “reputable international charitable organization” that operates in the territory.
Potatoes are one of the main food sources in Gaza and are widely grown by local farmers, Adiri said. But during the conflict, most of the crops spoiled.
“This will help the impoverished people in Gaza,” he said.
Along these lines, Adiri is also working with Israeli strawberry growers to bring seedlings to Gaza. Strawberry farmers there buy mother plants from Israel and plant them at the end of June or July in order to have them ready to grow in greenhouses in September. Due to the conflict, however, the irrigation systems failed to work and Gaza’s strawberry seedlings dried out.
“We have an alternative way to help them,” Adiri said. “They can get in Israel, I hope, plants from Israeli nurseries ready for planting in September.”
As far as the potato transfer is concerned, donors must commit to their contributions by August 16. The intention remains, however, to purchase as much as the money allows, even if the total does not reach $730,000.
Baskin stressed that all conveyance of the potatoes to the citizens would occur by means of international organizations and would be safely supervised by a coalition of groups.
“You’re not going to use potatoes to make rockets,” he said.