Turning Agricultural Waste into income in Gaza

Yasmeen from Gaza holding a piece of coal produced from agricultural waste through the UNDP project

The agricultural sector in the Gaza Strip is the main source of livelihood for almost 40,000 farmers. It represents 12.7% of the labour force and produces approximately 300,000 tons of agricultural products annually. But what also comes out of these tons of agricultural products is untreated agriculture waste, which is considered a source of environmental pollution with the potential to cause soil deterioration.

Highlights

  • According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, agricultural areas represent 20.6% of land in the Gaza Strip, and 24.8% in Deir El-Balah governorate.
  • A 2013 field survey conducted by the Palestinian Association for Development and Reconstruction (PADR) in Deir El-Balah governorate, found that an average of 3,789 acres of land is planted with vegetables and field crops. Each acre produces almost one ton of agricultural waste, which poses a risk to the environment and harms the ecosystem.
  • Agricultural waste increases the chances of deterioration of groundwater quality; the amount of gases emitted to the atmosphere; and global warming.
  • The Euro 1,455,550 project, funded by the Government of Belgium, aims at strengthening environmental governance for mainstreaming climate change in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Within the project, six grant agreements, with the total amount of USD 285,000, focused on climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • 103 women from Deir El Balah governorate were trained throughout the project on utilizing agricultural waste, in the form of coal, as an alternative source of energy.
  • 150 ton of untreated agricultural waste generated by planting field crops and vegetables at Deir al-Balah were reduced as a result of the project.

The 30 year old Yasmeen Abu Khaled, and Sabreen Abu Laimoon - 26 are friends and neighbours who live in El-Swarha village, Deir El-Balah governorate. Both their families own three acres of land and work in farming. Although they are members of the Women Rural Society, they do not have a stable income.

“After my father passed away, I had to work in our land to support my family. We plant vegetables and other products. We produce so much waste and we used to throw it out or burn it in open spaces.” Yasmeen, who is the breadwinner for her 13 family members, explains.

Sabreen, who is also supporter of her family of 11, used to work with her father in the land before he was paralyzed. Now she is leading the family with her younger brothers. She says, “I had no idea we can make use of the agricultural waste we produce. When I found out about the project I thought it would be just another ordinary training with no real impact on our life. Then I was surprised how important and informative it was.”

Yasmeen and Sabreen, along with 40 women in El-Swarha village, received 16 hours of theoretical training on the environment and biomass production, in addition to practical training, equipment and tools for producing biomass as coal.

After receiving the needed equipment, Yasmeen and Sabreen agreed to work together in their area. They collected the waste and started the process for the first time and it was successful!

UNDP’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, with funds from the Government of Belgium, and in cooperation with the Palestinian Association for Development and Reconstruction (PADR) in Gaza, were able to implement a project that will increase environmental awareness of rural women in the Deir Al-Balah Governorate. The project will enable them to invest in the production of alternative sources of energy (coal) from agricultural waste for domestic use and to generate income.

“We generated our first batch of coal and tested it. It was great and lasted longer than we expected. We also distributed some to our neighbours and friends to test their willingness to buy it. They were highly responsive especially that our prices are less prices than the market” Yasmeen says. “ We expect an increase in demand for coal during the winter season, especially that the Gaza population only receives six hours of electricity per day and so people will be using coal to warm up their houses”.

After testing the product, the two women took a step forward and marketed it out of the village. They visited supermarkets and offered their products. “We engaged all our family members and we currently earn 500 NIS (USD 125) per month, which is great”, Sabreen explains. “We used to throw away this waste and currently we are making money of it. We are so happy that we were given this opportunity through the project and we will certainly go on till we have our own brand.”

Many people ask Yasmeen and Sabreen where and how they acquired the knowledge to develop such a project. Nobody has ever imagined it could be that easy and productive. In addition to Sabreen and Yasmeen, another 101 women are currently working on their own projects, building their networks and providing an income for their families.