Friday, November 27, 2020

Palestine’s olive harvest to be halved due to climate change, experts warn

By Myriam Purtscher - September 25, 2018
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [Olive Trees] [agriculture]

As the midday sun beats down on the rolling valleys of Mazare Al Noubani, just north of Ramallah in the West Bank, 75-year-old Abdallah Zaydeh barely needs his walking stick as he marches through the rocky terraces of his olive orchard.

Zaydeh seems used to the intense heat as he inspects the early fruit of his harvest, where the only shade to be found is underneath the dappled foliage of the thousand-year-old olive trees his forefathers planted generations ago.
His leathered hand reaches out and gently grasps a bunch of yellowed leaves growing from one of the ancient trees, and he mumbles about the dry season they’ve had.
“Inshallah”, 'God willing’, Zaydeh complacently remarks when asked if he’s worried about this years’ harvest. He explains how olive yields have good and bad years, except this one he admits, is the worst he’s ever seen.
Sitting beneath a thousand-year-old olive tree, Abdullah Zydeh remembers when he was a child asking his grandfather, who planted these trees, how old they were.
Zaydeh is one of 2,500 olive farmers who are facing the worst olive harvest in living memory. Experts at the Economic and Social Development Centre for Palestine (ESDC) warn this year’s production of olives will be halved due to climate change.
With over 100,000 families in Palestine reliant upon olives as a sources of income, Program Manager at ESDC Jamal Burnat said this is a huge problem as he feels their current estimates are considerably generous.
“We feel optimistic it is half, however many people say it will be less than half which will have a huge impact on their income,” Burnat said.
“In a normal year, for the olive oil, pickled olive and olive production, they make income of $160 million to $191 million per year for those 100,000 families,” Burnat explained.
“This year it will be less than half.”
When asked how much land Zydeh owns, he shakes his head as he does not know the exact dunams. The land has been in his family for generations, continually dividing as it passes down through the sons.
Olives makeup half the agricultural production in Palestine, equating to 25 percent of the economy, and this years projected harvest is a mere ten thousand tonnes of olive oil compared to last year’s haul of 20,000 tonnes.
The local consumption of olive products in Palestine alone is 14,000 tonnes per year.
Farmers across the West Bank are facing the same decrease in harvest due to the unseasonably hot winter temperatures at the start of the year and unexpected rainfall during April.
“Usually it doesn’t rain in April when the olive fruit is only small, but this year the heavy rains damaged the fruit,” Burnat said.
“The harvests are gradually getting worse. This is not normal; this is a result of climate change.”
Mitigating the effects of climate change and occupation
Abdallah Zaydeh took over his father’s land in 1990 and began his life as an olive farmer. The Family has only in the last three years bought a tractor to help with the annual 'blowing’ of the land where they turn the soil to help keep the earth healthy, otherwise it was all done by hand.
Zaydeh learned to prune his trees in a way which gives him on average 70 to 80 percent of a total harvest, instead of the usual agricultural cycle many other farmers live by - which means only every second year provides a decent haul.
Zydeh pulls out a young olive sapling which was growing from the adult tree roots, he says they must be pulled out as they take too much nutrients away from the fruiting olive tree.
The olive harvest is Zaydeh’s only source of income, he explained as he rested against his walking stick. But this year he is worried there might not be much to bring home.
“This year if I get maybe ten percent [of the average harvest], this will be a very, very good thing,” he said.
Shaking his head, Zaydeh has never seen a harvest this bad.
“All my neighbours are suffering the same thing.”
Administrative Manager at Canaan Fair Trade Palestine, Ahmed Abufarha believes minimising the effect of climate change is something farmers will have to be prepared for in the future.
“Climate change will continue to have a negative impact of agriculture in general,” Abufarha told Palestine Monitor.
Abufarha explained how as the weather continues to get hotter and dryer, farmers will have to look for supplementary watering methods when there is little rainfall.
“Irrigating is one thing they can do to minimise the impact of climate change,” Abufarha suggested.
However, he acknowledged living under occupation may make this difficult due to tight water restrictions.
As stipulated under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestinians continue to live off the rations allocated to them 25 years ago, even though their population has nearly doubled since. This means surviving off a mere 13 percent of water supplies whilst the remaining 87 percent goes to Israel.
“In many cases, Palestinians don’t have rights or access to water for irrigation,” Abufarha continued.
“Palestinians in villages barely have enough water to drink, let alone water for their crops. But if they do have water for irrigation, they should use it.”
Abufarha also said experts are advising farmers to use different pruning techniques to lessen the trees water requirements as well as concentrate on maintaining clear fields.
“In the next year the experts advice the farmers advice the farmers prune their trees to be smaller, we have bigger trees with big branches change. Other ways are using organic practices like concentrate on soil fertility, field maintenance and weed control.”
“Some farmers who do good practices, they will get a good yield every year, and it’s these practices which can minimise climate change,” Abufarha said.
ESDC has also identified the expansion of Jewish settlers living in the West Bank as another pressure put on the olive sector in Palestine, with the increase of vandalism and destruction of olive trees tripling in one year.
“In 2016, according to OCHA, there were 1652 trees destroyed, but in the past year they destroyed 5583 trees, it's a considerable jump,” Burnat said.
“Climate change is affecting the tree and the settlers they are destroying the trees… I don't think there are any ways to protect them [from settlers].”
The portraits of Abdullah Zydeh’s grandfather (right) who passed the olive orchard down to Zydeh’s father (left) in 1956, overlook the family living room.
After spending hours in the midday sun with his olive trees, Zaydeh finally retires to the cool shade of his living room. With the portraits of his father and grandfather casting their gaze down upon Zaydeh, he feels optimistic at the longevity of his family business.
“You see our trees are a thousand, some 1,500 [years old], and they are strong. It’s not easy to change the trees, you see?,” Zaydeh asked as he looked up at the portrait of his forefathers.
He went on to say that this year might be bad, but it will pass.
“My god knows more than us,” Zaydeh chuckled.
“Inshallah, next year will be good.”

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