Farmers in Gaza make the most of their date crops
Palm trees have graced the shores of the Mediterranean Sea by the Gaza Strip and provided a living for its residents for over 1,700 years.
Literally named “the Monastery of Dates”, Deir al Balah has depended for centuries on date farming for the livelihood of its 500 inhabitants. Date farmers in Gaza traditionally supplement their income by rearing animals. But, animal fodder, which is imported from Israel, always added extra burdens on the meagre budgets of poor date farming households.
Getting more from their crops through turning excess fruits, date stones and foliage into animal fodder was a dream that had long tantalized Deir al Balah date farmers. Each dunum of land (1000 square metres) cultivated with date palm trees produces 1,200 kilograms of dates and a further 600 kilograms of waste.
Aided by a grant from the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Environmental Facility and the Norwegian People’s Aid, al Ahlya Association began a pilot project to collect farming waste and convert it into animal fodder.
Moufid al Banna, the director of al Ahlya said that he realized that utilizing the date palm waste would make better use of scarce water and labour and could improve the livelihoods of farmers.
First, the waste is brought to a workshop in Deir al Balah. The branches and fronds are cut into small pieces by a wood chipper, the stones are crushed and dates that could not be sold are added with grain. Everything is mixed together before drying in a revolving drum oven and packing.
Mr. Al Banna said his organization is engaged in a series of projects to protect the livelihoods of date palm farmers. “Our main goal is to encourage farmers to cultivate palm trees and benefit from all the different ways their products can be utilized”, he said.
“We want to use the waste to create better and cheaper animal food. It’s high in protein and we are testing and developing it to ensure it has high qualities as the fodder imported from Israel at around double the price.”
Since 2000, the beginning of the Second Intifada, Israeli forces have destroyed around 1,500 dunums of palm trees, around 23,000 trees. In recent years, ground water in Deir al Balah has been contaminated by seawater intrusion, reducing the viability of some crops. Date palms, however, thrive on slightly saline water.
Date palm farmers supplement their income by rearing animals. Animal fodder, which is imported from Israel, costs around USD450 per tonne. The date palm fodder costs around USD250 per tonne to produce.
Al Ahlya is currently producing around 15 tonnes per year that it sells to its suppliers for a nominal charge. Different recipes are currently being tested on sheep and goats to try to find the combination that provides maximum growth without being too fattening.
The organization also trains women in Deir al Balah to weave and produce craft using palms fronds.
Some of the women have graduated to train others while some learn a skill to produce gifts and earn a small amount of income.
Muna Abu El Kheir, 26, said that she was inspired to learn the craft of weaving dried fronds from her grandmother. At the age of 90, she still makes her own presents by hand. “It’s part of our heritage. I always liked to do it but then I took the opportunity to do it more. I learnt many things and now I can be much more creative,” she said.