Palestinian dates farmers, merchants fear losses amid recession caused by COVID-19 pandemic

Jericho /PNN/ (Xinhua)

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life difficult for export-reliant dates farmers in the West Bank, who fear that they might be unable to export products amid the decrease in demand.

Khader Zawahreh, a leading investor in the dates business, said that the global markets are currently experiencing a recession amid the coronavirus pandemic, which led to a decline in the global purchasing power.

Zawahreh, who grows different types of dates, added that the demand by international companies decreased notably this year and many farmers and merchants in Palestine did not sign export contracts with foreign companies.

“The prices of dates also decreased this year. The exchange rate of the U.S. dollar against local currencies has also decreased … this may lead to a sharp decline in the profits of the exporting companies and farmers alike,” Zawahreh, who has been in the business since 1998, told Xinhua.

Zawahreh’s company produces about 3,000 tons of dates annually, which is around 25 percent of Palestine’s annual exports of dates.

Ahmed al-Faris, director-general of the Agriculture Ministry’s Directorate in Jericho and Jordan Valley, said that the volume of Palestinian dates production for this year amounts to 12,800 tons, while last year’s production stood at 10,800 tons.
“The number of palm trees in Jericho and the Jordan Valley is 300,000,” al-Faris told Xinhua.

He added that the Palestinian companies export 50 percent of the date products to about 25 countries around the world.
Al-Faris explained that the global economic crisis has negatively affected the demand for dates, noting that this will also lead to a decline in the profits for farmers and exporters.

He said that the importing companies usually sign contracts with producers during May, June, and July. However, a large number of these companies have not yet signed any contracts.
The Palestinian official estimated that the market size of the dates sector stands at about 300 million dollars, including infrastructure, farms, packaging, storage refrigerators, and workforce and the sector provides about 5,000 direct and indirect job opportunities.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim Doaiq, head of the Date and Palm Council, said the demand for dates in the local Palestinian market, which consumes between 4,000 and 5,000 tons annually, has notably declined this year.
“Many merchants have not paid the remaining dues of last year’s deals with date growers,” he said, pointing out that dates farmers and merchants have not been able to obtain banking facilities to help them run their business amid the pandemic.

Doaiq added that talks with foreign importers are currently underway but the deals that have been already concluded did not exceed 10 percent of the harvested crops.

“So far, around 60 percent of the crops has been harvested … the future of the remaining 40 percent is unknown yet,” Doaiq said, revealing that the prices of dates also decreased by about one dollar per kilo, which will gravely affect farmers and exporters.

Jamal Abu Jarrar, a farmer from Jericho, said that his factory will only prepare 1,000 tons of dates compared with last year’s 3,000 tons.

“I have cut down the labor force in my farms and factory by almost 50 percent due to the current recession … I hope things will improve soon before it is too late,” he told Xinhua. Enditem