27 November, 2015

Offering resilience in a fragile land

by Cathi Pawson, Zaytoun

In a fragile landscape farmers need to know how to steward their natural resources to preserve them, and build up productivity generation after generation. In the face of climate change and the restrictions of the Israeli occupation, Fairtrade supports their resilience to unpredictable circumstances.

In Palestine’s West Bank, family farmers have for centuries known where to find sweet water, how to terrace their rocky hills to conserve rainwater and soil, which crops to grow and how to sow them.  For the most part, they farm organically. Their indigenous fruit and nut trees are rain-fed and adapted perfectly to the local climate and soil.

Under the Israeli occupation, farming families rely more than ever on their agricultural activities for income, as other sources of employment are scarce and almost impossible to reach due to increasing restrictions on movement and access. Olive and almond groves are situated close to their villages, and families harvest together in October each year. However, Israeli settlements are built on land razed of these ancient trees, leading to a loss of Palestinian control over natural resources, a decrease in biodiversity, and a negative impact on groundwater resources as the growing settler population draws on water for swimming pools and lavish gardens.

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place at the end of this month, the place of small family farmers like these at the heart of a truly sustainable food chain is important to emphasise. They are more resilient to climate change because they bring innovation that is grounded in intimate knowledge of their environment, often passed down through many generations. These practices not only nourish their communities but also protect their natural resources, and small-scale farmers with low-tech but sustainable agricultural techniques can adapt to increasing climatic unpredictability.

The Fairtrade family farmers who supply Zaytoun, a Fairtrade enterprise in the UK, are organised into village co-operatives who have several years’ experience of working together for certification, and for making decisions about where they should spend their Fairtrade premiums. This way of working has enhanced the spread of knowledge and mutual exchange of information on low-tech methods of crop protection and organic production. Fairtrade standards have also supported farmers through the promotion of training in sustainable pest management, an emphasis on biodiversity and sustainable natural resource use in Palestine.

This year, as violent settler attacks on Palestinian farmers have grown during the harvest season, ancient olive groves have been set alight and springs polluted by raw sewage from settlements. Many Palestinian growers need the support offered by Fairtrade buyers more than ever. Isolated by the occupation, Fairtrade supports a way of co-operation and communication that are lifelines to these farming families, alongside the means to a livelihood that is truly sustainable despite a changing climate and the severe restrictions of the occupation.  Fairtrade olive farmer Abu Saleh Hasan Elwakid from Alaraqa puts it this way “we make the world beautiful or ugly depending on how we treat each other and the land we live in.”

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