Palestinian farmers wither in tough climate

Wed Sep 12, 2012 10:27am EDT
 
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By Jihan Abdalla

BEIT UMMAR, West Bank (Reuters) - Once a mainstay of the local economy, Palestinian agriculture in the rocky West Bank is in decline as farmers struggle to protect their livelihoods and their lands.

Deprived of water and cut off from key markets, farmers across the occupied territory can only look on with a mix of anger and envy as Israeli settlers copiously irrigate their own plantations and export at will.

The pressure to keep farming is strong, not least because Palestinian farmers believe that Israel and Jewish settlers will expropriate their farmland if they leave it uncultivated.

But with restrictions on water use and land, what farmers produce often fails to match the lower cost or higher quality of what Israel supplies to the Palestinian stores.

Palestinian agriculture represented just six percent of gross domestic product in 2010 from 13.7 percent in 1994, the World Bank said. The Palestinian statistics bureau said where the sector employed 22 percent of the workforce in 1994, now it employs just 12.7 percent.

"Palestinian farmers are fighting a daily, losing battle against Israeli restrictions on land and water," Palestinian Minister of Agriculture Walid Assaf told Reuters.

In a report issued this month, a United Nations agency said the impact of the Israeli occupation on the productive base of the Palestinian economy, and especially its once-flourishing agriculture, "has been devastating."

"The economy has lost access to 40 per cent of West Bank land, 82 percent of its ground water, and more than two thirds of its grazing land," said the U.N. trade and development agency, UNCTAD.   Continued...

 
A worker carries boxes at a wholesale vegetable and fruit market in the West Bank village of Beita, near Nablus September 2, 2012. Once the mainstay of the local economy, Palestinian agriculture in the rocky West Bank is in decline, with farmers struggling to protect both their livelihoods and their lands. Deprived of water and cut off from key markets, farmers across the occupied territory can only look on with a mix of anger and envy as Israeli settlers copiously irrigate their own plantations and export at will. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman