Oxfam: PA and IDF could help olive farmers double crop

Report chastises the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the int'l community for failing to help ancient form of West Bank agriculture.

Palestinian Farmer 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Palestinian Farmer 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The Palestinian Authority and the international community could do more to help Palestinian olive farmers who already struggle to harvest their crops under stiff IDF restrictions and the dangers of settler violence, according to a report being released by Oxfam in Jerusalem on Friday.
The report, which was timed to coincide with the official start of the olive harvest on Friday, chastised the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the international community for failing to help one of the most ancient forms of West Bank agriculture.
“With limited investment [by the PA and international donors], and simple changes in farming methods, Palestinian olive farmers could double their incomes and produce a consistent supply of high-quality olive oil able to compete at home and abroad,” explained Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs on Thursday.
He cautioned, however, that “such investments can have little effect unless Israel, which has occupied the West Bank since 1967, refrains from actions that restrict Palestinian farmers from access to their land and means of livelihoods, and to foreign markets.”
According to the report, 45 percent of the Palestinian farmland in the West Bank and Gaza is used for farming 10 million olive trees, with the potential to yield 34,000 metric tons of oil in a good year and 5,000 tons in a bad one.
It added that olives and olive oil are two of the main agricultural exports from the Palestinian territories.
According to the report, the olive sector contributes up to $100 million in yearly income for some of the poorest Palestinian communities.
Palestinian agriculture accounts for 10% of the GDP, but the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture allocated only 1.21% of its total budget in 2009 to those farmers, stated Oxfam.
Out of this sum, “59% is spent on salaries and operating costs, leaving little support for the farmers themselves,” Oxfam said.
“Similarly in 2009, donor support for the development of agriculture was limited to less than 1% of total funds,” the report said.
It added that ineffective management and poor production practices, as well as environmental issues such as climate change, had caused the Palestinian olive industry to stagnate.
In particular, the report noted, Palestinian farmers could become international leaders in the organic olive oil and fair trade markets.
The report also took issue with settler violence and IDF restrictions on water, movement and access for Palestinians in the West Bank.
It noted that according to the UN, in the first half of 2010, vandals from the settlements had damaged thousands of olive trees. Oxfam added that according to the left-wing group Yesh Din, no action had been taken to bring the vandals to court.
The report further charged that settlers, and sometimes soldiers, had harassed Palestinian olive farmers.
In addition, IDF roadblocks and checkpoints make it hard for Palestinian farmers to bring their crops to local and international markets, said Oxfam.
“Excessive time delays, increased transport, labor and equipment costs, security checks, lack of access to proper storage facilities and damage which occurs during the handling and unloading of the produce, reduce the competitiveness of Palestinian agriculture produce and introduce high levels of unpredictability in terms of quality and delivery times. All this prevents Palestinian olive and olive oil traders from penetrating global markets,” stated the report.
“Sometimes the trucks wait for 15 to 20 hours to cross a checkpoint, which can seriously affect the quality of the olive oil through deterioration in direct sunlight. Often the bottles are damaged and oil leaks,” said Oxfam.
The report charged that Israel’s security barrier kept Palestinian farmers from properly accessing their land. Palestinian farmers have had difficulty obtaining the necessary permits, it added.
“Barrier gates are open infrequently and only for a limited time,” stated the report.
But an IDF civil administration spokesman told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that in general, “the entrance of Palestinians to the security fence area for agricultural purposes is carried out according to established procedures, and requires [that the harvesters] submit a request together with documents that prove linkage to the land.”
The statement continued, “In recent months, the civil administration turned to the heads of [Palestinian] councils and asked them to submit requests in a centralized manner in order to coordinate the entrance of landowners and their workers to the security fence area and allow a reasonable amount of time to examine the requests.
“Despite these requests, the heads of councils chose to submit their requests in a centralized manner only on October 11, and therefore the requests will be examined in the coming days according to procedure,” the statement said.
A defense source added that the civil administration had begun asking Palestinian landowners to submit the requests six months ago, and the majority had responded to the requests, while a few had not.
When requests are sent, the source said, “there is no problem.
We’ve had harvesters reaching their land from Bil’in, Ni’lin, Jenin, and things are fine. In Wadi Rasha, a request was not put forward until a few days ago.”
The source added that the permit system was essential to ensure that smugglers and other elements were not allowed free access past the security fence, from which they could easily reach the rest of the country.
“Within a week to two weeks, the forms are usually processed if there are no security issues,” the source said.
Those who have submitted the requests late “won’t lose their olives. A solution will be found,” he added.
Away from the security fence, special arrangements for harvesting olives are only needed in cases where groves are situated within settlements, in which case soldiers have been deployed to secure the harvesters.