Gaza’s red gold: High production and growing challenges

GAZA/PNN/

The streets and shops of the Gaza Strip are now rich in the fruits of palm trees amid growing obstacles regarding marketing and storage in view of the electricity crisis and the closure of border crossings.

The Gaza Strip has over 250,000 palm trees, mostly planted in the southern areas, with 150,000 trees producing an average of 100-300 kg of red dates.

Anticipation and uncertainty

With great concern, the Gazan farmer Abu Antar Baraka cannot wait to harvest his crops and store them in refrigerators in the hope of exporting them to the occupied West Bank and European countries.

Baraka, 65, in one of the orchards of Deir al-Balah City, supervises dozens of workers engaged in harvesting palm tree fruits and filling them in boxes before they are sent to stores.

Baraka said, “The picking started a few days ago and is likely to continue until end of October. The season is good and the fruits are many, but our problem is marketing the fruits, so we store them in the hope of exporting abroad. Power cuts and the closure of crossings stand in our way.”

Abu Tamer Baraka, 70, said that the red dates harvest season is the most important for many farmers in the Gaza Strip as it is their only source of livelihood.

“Farmers wait until the season of palm tree fruits starts to meet the cost of their sons’ marriage and pay off their debts,” he added.

Director of Khan Younis Agricultural Cooperative Association Nahed Al-Astal told PNN that the date season starts from the end of September and lasts until the end of October, pointing to the abundance of productivity this year compared to previous years, and expected production to be more than ten thousand tons.

Al-Astal said that the number of palm trees in the Gaza Strip reached 11,300 this year, of which 8800 are fruitful and 2500 are fruitless.

He pointed out that Israel in last years prevented exports outside the Gaza Strip to the West Bank markets, which led to the reluctance of farmers to plant palm trees because of the high costs of planting and because of the lack and weakness of the local market, causing large losses to farmers.

He added that since the occupation allowed five years ago export of dates, especially to the West Bank and some foreign markets, interest in planting and cultivating date palms and increasing farmers’ appetite for planting it.

Al-Astal pointed out that the date palm is a golden opportunity especially for workers in light of the difficult economic conditions experienced by the Gaza Strip, where the picking of dates needs a lot of manpower, indicating that a single farm needs more than 30 workers and the number of workers in the date up to more than five Thousands.

National economy

Naser al-Deeb, the director general of the Guidance Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, conducts field tours to palm groves in Gaza to oversee the picking operations.

Al-Deeb confirmed that the Gaza Strip produces 12,000-15,000 tons of red dates, expressing his happiness to overcome the most complicated problem facing the palm planting sector, which is the palm weevil.

He explained, “We have fought that pest for years and we have made progress. Today the production seems plentiful, and we expect farmers and traders to make good profit.”

Wael Thabet, the director general of the Plant Protection Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the ministry’s plan to protect the palm fruit harvest is likely to succeed.

“We have an ample amount of dates from 150,000 tress and we are trying to make pressed dates to protect the palm economy from collapse,” Thabet said.

The Palestinian farmer Jamal Abu Jummeiza has a special experience with palm fruits and he has been known for making pressed dates, drying the fruits, and even benefiting from the seeds for the coffee industry.

Abu Jummeiza said, “I’m happy with this productive season. The season lasts for 30-40 days, and I will spend the rest of the year drying the fruits and making pressed dates ready for sale.”

The palm sector contributes to the national economy of the besieged Gaza Strip, but the regular closure of border crossings and the electricity crisis have left the farmers and traders in constant fear of possible losses.

For his part, Ahmed Sammour told PNN reporter in Gaza that the date season this year  is abundant better than previous years, adding that he has 20 dunums of palm and is a main source of livelihood for him and his family besides other crops.

He added that 15 workers  work in the farm who are reaping the fruits of dates from cutting to selling and storing until export.