Potatoes, olives, grapes, meat and dairy products. In Palestine, Sida collaborates with Oxfam in a project that provides small-scale farmers and food producers the possibility to develop their own business to become more competitive and sustainable.
“I was hesitant about beginning to grow the new kind of cucumber at first, but I changed my mind once I realised that there would be a contract where I could sell them at a fixed and reasonable price,” says Yousseff Salahat.
Yousseff Salahat is one of the farmers and food producers who are covered by Oxfam’s programme for market development for small-scale business operators in Palestine. One of the products the project is focused on is exactly the production of cucumbers in the Fara’a valley and Tammoun on the West Bank.
The farmers in Palestine have traditionally grown a kind of cucumber that provides large harvests for a short period of the year. Since everyone harvested during the same period, demand was saturated, which led to low prices. For small-scale farmers, the business did not even break even.
“Most farmers are very dependent on the income they get in a harvest to make a living for themselves and their families. If the income is too low, it’s a harsh blow to their standard of living,” says Ismail Abu Arafeh, Coordinator for Oxfam’s financial development programme.
Through Oxfam’s programme, several farmers have begun growing a new kind of cucumber called a baby cucumber that is harvested twice a year. The programme has also negotiated agreements between companies that make pickled cucumbers and have a demand for baby cucumbers, and the farmers who have begun to grow the new kind. The farmers have also formed a company to be able to make joint purchases at better prices and also get paid more for their products.
The farmers’ incomes have grown
In the last season, Yousseff Salahat and his family planted 3,000 square metres and were then able to harvest 15 tonnes of the baby cucumbers. The majority was sold through the reseller and the reset in the local market. And the family’s incomes have increased.
“I am very happy, not only because I earn more now, but also because I can pay back my debt to the agricultural store. Now, I’m even thinking about investing a little more money to be able to grow cucumbers in a larger area,” says Yousseff Salahat.
Mamoun Awaysah, who represents the farmers’ business, says that they will also build a shared warehouse, invest in marketing and hopefully even start their own factory where cucumbers can be conserved.
“Now we are finally going somewhere. We farmers don’t need to do everything ourselves; we’re a group now. We can make our voices heard, influence our own lives and inspire others to do the same,” says Mamoun Awaysah.
Cucumbers, grapes, potatoes, olives and small livestock
The market development programme is focused on six value chains: cucumbers, grapes, potatoes, olives, small livestock and traditional food production. In every value chain, limitations have been identified and analysed, after which individual solutions were developed and tested in the field.
A problem for those who raise small livestock is the high mortality rate – 25 per cent of all sheep and goats are estimated to die prematurely, which is high in international comparisons. One reason is that the farmers have only sought help from a veterinarian when the animal is already substantially sick, and then it is often too late to save it. Here, Oxfam has enabled a collaboration that makes it possible for the farmers to get a visit from a veterinarian four times a month – who checks the livestock and offers advice, vaccines and other support.
Another part of the programme is supporting and developing the traditional food production that is done by women’s cooperatives. Among other things, the programme has contributed to a women’s cooperative in Qabalan being able to increase and quality assure its production of samosa dough. This way, the cooperative becomes more competitive in Palestine where samosa dough has mainly been imported from Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
The goal is a better market for small-scale farmers
The market development programme runs until autumn 2019. After the end of the programme, the markets for the six different value chains should work better for small-scale farmers. It will then be easier for the farmers to adapt their production and their marketing based on a better understanding of how the market works.
“Before, many development assistance projects mainly provided direct support to farmers, without looking at how markets could be improved in a long-term perspective. Subsidies and other direct support are not sustainable since they disappear once the project ends. Changing markets and market actors’ behaviour have much more long-term effects,” says Ismail Abu Arafeh.
Since the programme recently began, it is too early to be able to see long-term results – but so far many people are positive.
“At first, it was hard for many people to understand and accept this way of working, but we have worked a great deal on rooting the programme. And now we can see that this approach has really changed people’s way of thinking,” says Ismail Abu Arafeh.