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Palestinian almonds in demand, but circumstances tough

19 February 2016

CHRISTIAN AID

Challenges: an almond tree on a Palestinian farm

Challenges: an almond tree on a Palestinian farm

ALMOND farmers in Palestine are struggling to meet international demand as a “direct result” of both the occupation and climate change, a partner of Christian Aid has said.

The charity has been working with the Canaan Centre for Organic Research and Extension (CORE) for three years to help almond farmers in occupied territory cope with restrictions, and infringements on their land, as well as changing weather.

“Our agricultural system and ecological heritage are threatened every day by the occupation,” the director of CORE, a Christian Aid partner, Samer Jarrar, who is Palestinian, said this month. “[Israeli settlers] flow their sewage water toward our lands and agricultural areas; a few weeks ago they destroyed a high-value olive park of 1000 trees, near Bethlehem, to expand the settlements.”

Similar concerns were raised by the Fairtrade Foundation, last month (News, 1 January).

The programme manager for Christian Aid in the Middle East, Phoebe Rison, said that these restrictions made farming “incredibly hard”, and were “compounded” by climate change.

Prolonged dry weather had caused a serious water shortage in the region, Mr Jarrar said, an issue that had been magnified by the Israeli authorities: “Israel controls 100 per cent of our water resources. Of this, 80 per cent is given to settlers, and the remaining 20 per cent is sold to us at a high price.”

As a result, most farmers were relying on rainwater, because irrigation farming — applying water to crops manually to improve production — was not an option. “Fortunately almonds are a high value crop: international demand is increasing every year; so the prices are very high, and we are well established in the market,” he said.

CORE was working with Canaan Fair Trade and the Palestine Fair Trade Association to ensure that almond farmers received a fair income for their produce. The price was at an all-time high because of droughts in California, where the majority of the world’s almonds are produced.

The Palestinian varieties survived because they were more drought-resistant, owing to the hot and dry Mediterranean climate. But the warm weather had also led to a flourishing of pests and diseases, which could cause “huge damage” to almond production, he said.

In 2012, production had fallen by 60 per cent because of the appetite of the fly wasp, which farmers did not know how to eradicate. CORE began researching the pest last year, and production has since risen by 56 per cent.

These fairtrade organic almonds are sold to companies such as Ben and Jerry’s, LUSH cosmetics, and Zaytoun, a supplier of Wholefoods Market, for a higher profit than almonds sold in the region. “Two years ago, the farmers were uprooting their almond trees to get rid of the pest, and now they are planting new orchards of almonds,” Mr Jarrar said.

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