We hosted three individuals from three initiatives and organizations; Raya Ziadeh from Manjala, Yara Dowani from Om Sleiman Farm, and Sahar Qawasmi from Sakiya to discuss issues of food security, food sovereignty, and to address general challenges to the agricultural sector in Palestine.
“Where do we begin?” – on challenges that exist in the agricultural sector
Palestine is historically an agricultural land and an agricultural community. According to Yara Dowani, Palestinian farmers went from composing 60% of the population, to less than 17%. This can be attributed to several reasons, including the occupation and the confiscation of land. One way Om Sleiman is addressing this challenge by (not so) simply, working in the land.
Nation-wide policies do not help Palestinian farmers
Raya Ziadeh addressed the lack of official policies to support the agricultural sector and Palestinian farmers. That, in addition to the limited government budget allocated for the agricultural sector which does not exceed 1%, only exacerbate the struggles of farmers and producers. It’s thus no surprise that within these policies, our agricultural society is changing, and so are our traditions and agricultural practices, according to Raya. Raya also believes that the work of the different rising initiatives is a way to address these challenges, and to break free from them.
We have a serious issue when it comes to planning
Sahar Qawasmi addressed another angle of agricultural challenges: the lack of official planning. According to Sahar, current planning does not look at land based on its fertility, but rather based on its location. What should be agricultural land has turned into construction sites, and wherever construction doesn’t work – that’s what’s become agricultural land. Consequently, planning has become haphazard, and does not consider the correct division and use of land. And according to Sahar, this stems from a lack of awareness, as well as to a problem in our priorities.
This one comes to no one’s surprise. Capitalist market structure has created an intermediary between the buyer and seller – consumer and farmer. In the Palestinian market, it is the intermediary who ends up benefiting most, adding cost of shipping and high profit margins and driving up the price of goods.
Is there a way to achieve self sufficiency?
“It’s a long way” – but there is a way.
Sahar shared that to consider self-sufficiency, as a society, we first need to rethink our economic system, our priorities, our values, our relationships among one another, about the seasons, and about the land.
Are way of life is different than that of a farmer’s. Today we live day by day. For farmers it’s different – they consider aspects like day and night, the importance of seasons. Whereas to others, it doesn’t matter as much. So we need to think about that when we think about concepts like self-sufficiency, and to take a moment to re-evaluate our current choices and values.
Awareness, awareness, and more awareness…
Our three speakers agreed that there is a general lack of awareness regarding our habits as consumers, and our knowledge about farming, and eco-agriculture.
At the same time, there is an evident increase in the number of young farmers, initiatives, and organizations working on reviving farming practices. One of our speakers even described them as a movement for freedom.
So we asked our speakers, “What can I as an individual do?”
Start with questioning, be curious.
When describing the beginning of her involvement in farming, Yara said that once she stopped and asked herself, “where is the food I’m eating coming from?” – that was the beginning of the shift for her. So her advice was to question where your food comes from, your consumption habits, and overall way of life.
Ditch the intermediaries
These include your local supermarket and vegetable market. Instead, head straight to the farmer. There’s a long list of local organic and eco-farms all around Palestine. An official one should be coming out soon, so keep your eyes peeled for it, and until then – do your own research to find and support local farmers in your area.
Work on community building
Again, Palestine is historically an agricultural community, and our traditions are rich with concepts like “El ‘ouneh” or “the help.” While one may argue that such concepts are slowly becoming less and less common, our speakers believe otherwise.
Today’s initiatives, including community supported agriculture farms (CSA), are reviving Palestine’s cultural and agricultural heritage in a way that truly highlights the sense of community. Sahar gave the example of a group of youth who worked a farm, and sold the produce to support studying scholarships for one another. “It makes you a better person.” she says.
“It’s not just food, it’s much more deeper than that.”