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Palestinian farmers hawk wares at Israel agricultural fair
By ARIEH O’SULLIVAN / THE MEDIA LINE
03/03/2011
Among the thousands to attend the self-proclaimed “World Cup of Agriculture,” were about 400 Palestinian farmers from the West Bank.
 
Hawking olive oil, cherry tomatoes, beer and other traditional products, Palestinian farmers and agri-business people participated for the first time at the Agro Mashov international agriculture exhibition held in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
 
Taking their place among the glitzy Israeli stalls pushing everything from high tech fruit sorters, genetically modified fruit flies and sophisticated milking sensors, the Palestinians came seeking not only business deals, but in search of Israeli innovations.
 
“This year we have our corner as the Palestinian Authority. We have our products and we wanted to give a chance for Israeli farmers to see our productions,” Palestinian Agriculture Minister Ismail Daiq told The Media Line. “And, at the same time, we are looking to benefit from the transfer of the technology from Israel.”
 
Among the thousands to attend the self-proclaimed “World Cup of Agriculture,” were about 400 Palestinian farmers from the West Bank.
 
Traditionally practioners of a family-based farming culture, the Palestinians are trying to break into more modern farming methods and for years have used Israeli innovations, such as drip irrigation.
 
“It’s a tough challenge because the farmers are interested in quantity and not quality, and we need higher quality in order to sell to the lucrative European markets,” said Samir Abu Mansour, a Palestinian consultant for Carana, a company that helps boost economic growth in the developing world.
 
Palestinian agriculture, which is mainly field crops, vegetables and fruit, makes up about 9% of its gross domestic product. Israel is the Palestinians’ largest market and they export 60% of their products there. They also import about half of their agriculture needs from Israel, including  plastics for irrigation and greenhouses, pesticides and fertilizers.
 
Israeli agriculture technology is known for producing high yields with little water.  While Israel is one of the world’s leaders in agriculture technology, the sector only accounts for a tiny fraction of the economy.
 
“The difference between Israeli and Palestinian agriculture is great, but we see today a change on the Palestinian side, which cannot be dismissed. I’m sure that this is because the cooperation between us,” said Samir Moaddi, chief Israeli agriculture adviser to the Palestinian Authority.
 
“Even today we have the first display by the Palestinians and close to 400 visitors, which shows the interest on the Palestinian side to become exposed to all the innovations in this exhibit,” Moaddi told The Media Line. 
 
Israel’s Minister of Agriculture Orit Noked, who assumed the post less than a month ago, met with her Palestinian counterpart as he walked her through the stalls of Palestinian farm products.
 
At one point, as they examined herbs grown in the West Bank, a passing Israeli shouted out to Noked: “Why did you bring these Palestinians here?”
 
“It was all rather embarrassing,” said Mansur. 
 
Palestinian Minister Daiq said the Palestinians could serve as a bridge between Israel and the Arab world.
 
“Palestinian farmers usually transfer this technology to many countries around here -- the Arab countries -- and now we have established a special association for international cooperation in agriculture,” Daiq said.
 
Daiq said Palestinian experts were present in Sudan, Mauritania, Latin America and Cuba.
 
“So we started already to transfer the Palestinian know-how and we are trying to use that to benefit our people,” he said.
 
Moaddi, who was instrumental in transferring Israeli technology to the Palestinians in the West Bank to cultivate strawberries, echoed Daiq.
 
“If we all speak with common sense which means leaving all the other matters aside and work together with cooperation, then without a doubt …we see them as a bridge with Arab nations,” Moaddi said.
 
Maria Khoury of the Taybe Brewing Company urged visitors to try beer from the only brewery in the West Bank. While Muslims refrain from producing alcohol, Khoury said the company flourished because Taybe is a Christian town.
 
“We’re allowed to have beer and we are making beer for beer lovers and we hope that Palestine will be a democratic free secular Palestine so we can have the freedom to brew beer,” Khoury told The Media Line. 
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