Cultivating Olives, Relationships, and Sustainability

For generations, Palestinian olive growers have had to cope with the challenges of tending their crops in a political and environmental climate where water and other resources aren’t nearly as reliable as the hot, mid-day sun. One such olive grower, Abd Al-Jabar Awda Ismail, from the small town of Kafr Ad-Dik in Salfit, West Bank, is one of 20 farmers who has benefitted from training that links the technical expertise of Arab and Israeli agronomists with the longstanding, local experience of the olive farmers in this area.

The training Mr. Ismail received is part of the Olive Oil Without Borders (OOWB) initiative spearheaded by the Near East Foundation with support from USAID.  Through economic cooperation and transfer of industrial and scientific knowledge, OOWB has been fostering egalitarian relations between Israelis and Palestinians involved in olive oil production and trade since 2005. Taking a break in the shade of his olive trees, Mr. Ismail explained the benefits of the training in tangible terms: “The irrigation process was successful from last year—there was about a 25 percent increase in oil production.”

Without any reservations, Mr. Ismail also reflected on the positive experience of going to Israel and meeting the agronomists who covered such diverse topics as tree diseases and olive oil tasting to help improve oil production and quality. Upon his return home, he was able to share this new knowledge with his sons and other farmers. He hopes to see the OOWB project expand to benefit others, stressing the importance of rainwater collection, since peak irrigation for the trees needs to occur during some of the area’s hottest and driest months. “If USAID develops this project…we can cover 1,000 trees in this area without buying water,” he says.

The cross-cultural partnerships created through OOWB are highly effective. By adopting conservational farming methods, the Palestinian farmers’ olive trees, land, and livelihoods can be preserved—and even improved—for their children and future generations to come.

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