Building resilience for Palestinian farmers
Resilience is probably one of the most fashionable terminologies in today’s humanitarian and developmental debates. According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee, resilience means that states can better withstand environmental, political, economic and social shocks and stresses. It is about the ability of households, communities and nations to absorb and recover from shocks, whilst positively adapting and transforming their structures and means for living in the face of long-term stresses, change and uncertainty.1 In order to build resilience that is sustainable, the donor community is pushed to be both creative and innovative, and is forced to enhance cooperation, including with local stakeholders and beneficiary communities. The concept does not replace humanitarian assistance but supports sustainable human development among vulnerable communities and gradually reduces the dependency on long term humanitarian aid.
In this article Wijnand Marchal, First Secretary at the Netherlands Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, wants to focus on how the Netherlands is helping to build resilience among Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Marchal will describe why enhancing resilience is necessary in the context of the challenging environment and how Dutch funded programs contribute to this end.
Palestinians are in need of stronger resilience. During the last decades, they have endured a situation of a protracted crisis caused by the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This continues to have a serious impact on their livelihoods. Palestinians are one of the most food import dependent populations in the world. Currently around 88% of food consumption is imported, a figure which is projected to rise even further. Food insecurity remains at very high levels, with a third of households – 1.6 million people – food insecure, according to the 2013 annual food security survey.2 This figure reflects the sustained vulnerability of socio-economic conditions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Most Palestinian farmers are smallholders, which makes them vulnerable to stresses and shocks. In the Palestinian agricultural sector, access (or rather lack thereof) is the key word. Access to natural resources such as land and water; inputs such as seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides; but access to markets, services and knowledge is constrained due to the conflict. In light of the protracted nature of the conflict, the focus of the Dutch government’s intervention is on building resilience, for the economy, the community and on the family level.
The constraints for the Palestinian agricultural sector are essentially dominated by political factors, as they derive from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are serious limitations with regard to access to land and water, due to the division of the West Bank in areas A, B and C3; the existence and expansion of settlements; the separation barrier; and settler roads. The Palestinian Authority has no control over Area C, which comprises 63% of the total Palestinian farmland. The area is more and more used as military training zones, nature reserves and is also considered as a natural expansion for the settlements, a constant threat to Palestinian farmers. In addition to this, Palestinians in Gaza have been faced with limited access to the so-called Buffer Zone since 2007. The area inside the Buffer Zone along the northern and eastern borders with Israel covers nearly a third (29%) of the Gaza Strip’s arable land and is mostly inaccessible to farmers.4 Both the West Bank and Gaza suffer from chronic water scarcity, because of aquifers running dry, and limited access, due to Israeli controlled quotas for agricultural use. Palestinians cannot freely access the water outlets located in Area C, while 82% of Palestinian groundwater is used by Israel.5 The remaining water available for Palestinian agriculture is often of low quality due to the depletion of aquifers (especially in Gaza), waste water contamination by both Palestinian cities and Israeli settlements, and an underdeveloped wastewater infrastructure. Building irrigation systems or cisterns is difficult since building activities in Area C are restricted.
Dutch development interventions
Since 2004, the Netherlands has supported Palestinian farmers contributing towards acceptable life conditions on the one hand and towards peace building on the other hand. The Netherlands wishes to contribute to a situation in which the Palestinian people have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, while Palestinian farmers, including smallholders, have the capacity to compete with their products in national and international markets.6 The Palestinian agricultural sector is of key importance for food security and income generation, as well as private sector development. A significant part of the population is dependent on it, either for their daily access to food or for employment opportunities. Around 15% of the population derives its income directly from the agricultural sector.
Improving access to land and water
Local NGOs are implementing the Land and Water Resource Development Program which enables farmers to improve their access to natural resources. Through this program more than 12,000 farmers benefit from building or rehabilitating agricultural roads, introducing water harvesting techniques and land development. The interventions of this program are founded on a community-based approach, focusing on large geographical areas. The Netherlands provides funding for the heavy work while farmers commit themselves to follow up with productive activities on their land. Through better use of their land and water resources, farmers contribute to a more resilient Palestinian economy. Farmers are at risk of losing their land to settler activities or military purposes if they do not use it.
In Gaza, the Netherlands has identified a Buffer Zone location near the Bedouin village of Umm an-Nasser, one of the poorest and most food insecure areas of Gaza. The village’s agricultural land previously solely consisted of sand dunes. With Dutch support, the land was leveled, a well and irrigation system was built, and clay was added to enrich the soil with minerals. In addition to the reclamation of the 300 dunums of land (approximately 74 acres), 150 farmers who work at this Buffer Zone location were trained in modern farming techniques. In the autumn of 2013, the farmers planted their first crops. They were able to increase their families’ food security and sell the crops. Unfortunately, the Gaza crisis of last summer caused damage to the land and irrigation systems resulting in farmers losing their crops. Shortly after the crisis, the farmers were able to pick up their work again after the Netherlands agreed to an additional contribution for new seeds, rehabilitation of land and restoration of irrigation systems and water wells.
Improving access to markets
The Dutch agricultural interventions are focused on improving access to land, water and markets. In the High Value Crops Program, implemented by FAO and a number of Palestinian NGOs, 2,000 small scale farmers are brought together into well organized and specialized cooperatives. Through these cooperatives, the farmers are able to produces over 30 high value crop varieties7, penetrating almost all markets in the world. In previous agricultural programs, farmers in West Bank and Gaza have been trained to become Global GAP certified, enabling them to compete on the international market. The program also explores ways to reduce water consumption in the production of fruits and vegetables, particularly in water-scarce Gaza, through methodologies including the diversification of crops (including crops that can withstand saline water such as dates) and more water efficient production techniques. In order to safeguard the quality and food safety, the Netherlands supports a capacity building program in the Palestinian National Authority to implement the WTO sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS).
As part of the goal to achieve improved market access for Palestinian farmers, the Netherlands addresses the main obstacles of the movement and access regime imposed by the Israeli authorities. This regime not only causes access problems and thus higher transaction costs, but also results in the unpredictability of supply and export flows, which severely affects the competitiveness of Palestinian products. In 2013, the Netherlands funded two container scanners for the Allenby Bridge (West Bank – Jordan) and Kerem Shalom (Gaza – Israel) crossings which will allow for the containerization of Palestinian trade. These container scanners can reduce trade obstacles and increase the competitiveness of Palestinian products.
Lifting the blockade on Gaza and easing the West Bank access restrictions remain the most critical factors affecting food insecurity. Only when these political constraints are lifted, the high potential of the Palestinian agricultural sector can be fully developed. In the meantime, building resilience is essential to cope with the politically volatile environment. With the assistance of donors, the Palestinian Territories have proved to be an area where resilience can be built and retained.
- 1. Guidelines for resilience systems analysis, OECD, 2014
- 2. Food insecurity in Palestine remains high, UNRWA, June 3, 2014, http://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/press-releases/food-insecurity-palestine-remains-high
- 3. OCHA maps provide detailed insights in the difference in area status in the West Bank, see: http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/westbank_2014_final.pdf
- 4. Farming without Land, Fishing without Water: Gaza Agriculture Sector Struggles to Survive, UNISPAL, http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/9A265F2A909E9A1D8525772E004FC34B
- 5. National Agricultural Sector strategy, Resilience and Development 2014-2016, p. 8, Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, http://www.apis.ps/up/1417423273.pdf
- 6. The Dutch multi-annual strategic plan for the Palestinian Territories can be found at: http://pal.nlmission.org/appendices/development_cooperation/nro-multi-annual-strategic-plan-2014-2017.html
- 7. Examples of high value crops included in the program: strawberries, peppers, cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs. On top of that, demonstration farms for the production of pineapple in the West Bank have been established and date varieties have been introduced in Gaza. An overview of Palestinian crops and information related to the agricultural sector is at http://www.palestinecrops.ps/